Malaysian media challenges ‘anti-fake news’ law as unconstitutional

The Malaysian online news portal Malaysiakini has challenged the constitutional standing of the recently passed Anti-Fake News law. (Screen grab)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Malaysian media challenges ‘anti-fake news’ law as unconstitutional

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian online news portal Malaysiakini has challenged the constitutional standing of the recently passed Anti-Fake News law.
The news portal filed for a judicial review on Friday at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on the basis that the law violates civil liberties and freedom of speech.
According to Malaysiakini, the media company “is seeking leave for a declaration that the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 is in violation of Article 5, and Article 10 (1), read together with Article 8.” It has also demanded that the Home Ministry and the government revoke the law.
“We feel this action is very important as the act goes against constitutional provisions of freedom of speech,” Premesh Chandran Jeyachandran, Malaysiakini’s chief executive officer, told Reuters.
The law outlines fake news broadly as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false,” and expands it to cover digital publications and social media.
Despite the outcry by the media, human rights organizations and the public, the Anti-Fake News bill was passed swiftly in Parliament on April 2, and gazetted into law on April 11.
The unpopular law’s harsh punishment includes jail terms of up to six years and fines amounting to $130,000.
Human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo told Arab News that Malaysiakini is in the business of news reporting and is directly affected by the law.”It is hard to ensure that every news (item) is 100 percent accurate when it is first reported.” He added that news develops gradually based on facts that are subsequently disclosed or revealed.
“Hence the challenge to the law in the court — so that such wide law with vague or unclear definitions is not used in Malaysia,” he said.
Ed Legaspi, Southeast Asian Press Alliance executive director, told Arab News: “This challenge is an important move against the Anti-Fake-News law, as it registers a principled opposition to the law on the basis of right to freedom of expression.”
Legaspi added that journalists are also on the frontline of those who are threatened by the Anti-Fake News law because of their role in keeping information flowing.
The bill is part of a larger government campaign against fake news since last year.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has been running a fact-checking portal at sebenarnya.my, as well as a series of billboard-campaigns that discourage the public from sharing and spreading fake news.
The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

A Nepalese roadside vendor reads the news in Kathmandu, Nepal, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

  • The codes prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them

KATMANDU, Nepal: Journalists in Nepal are demanding changes to new criminal and civil codes they say undermine freedom of speech and expression.
The laws that took effect last month are general codes of conduct that apply to all citizens of Nepal, but press freedom groups say harsher sentences for libel and privacy violations are having a chilling effect on journalists in the small Himalayan country. Here are some details:
WHY THE NEW LAWS CAME ABOUT
Nepal’s new civil and criminal codes are the result of a new constitution adopted in 2015. Nepalese lawmakers had three years to design a set of laws that prescribe how the constitution should be interpreted. The codes cover everything from stipulating the legal age of marriage to enshrining property rights and describe how each civil violation or crime can be punished.
WHY THEY ARE CONTROVERSIAL
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. But provisions of the new codes appear to limit these freedoms, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “Nepal’s new criminal code marks a giant step backward for press freedom,” program coordinator Steven Butler said in a statement. For example, the codes make criticizing the president or members of Parliament criminal acts. The codes also prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them. The codes say that authorities can detain suspects for up to 40 days while investigating criminal charges. “Now journalists will be first detained and treated like murder suspects even before they are tried or given a chance to clarify,” said Ramesh Bistra, general secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, which has vowed to fight for the codes to be amended. The codes also ban satire, which in Nepal has been a prominent feature in the press and a popular form of protest throughout the country’s changing forms of government — from monarchy to autocratic rule to constitutional monarchy to the republic established in 2007.
CHILLING EFFECT
Press freedom groups say the language of the laws is broad enough to be used as a tool to attack journalists and deter them from doing their work. The four sections on privacy and defamation decree sentences of up to three years in prison and $260 in fines. Previously, journalists could be fined up to $217 for libel. “These new laws have created an environment of fear for the journalists and more and more of them are now practicing self-censorship,” said Taranath Dahal, who heads the Freedom Forum, a Nepal-based media rights group.
GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE
In response to journalists’ protests, the Nepalese government has formed a committee to recommend changes to the codes’ language. This committee, with representatives from several media rights groups and unions, has been given 45 days to come up with recommendations. The government, however, is not obliged to follow them. Even if the government accepts the changes, lawmakers would have to draft amendments, which would then have to be debated in Parliament before changes could be made. This could take months if not years in Nepal. Until then, the controversial new codes remain in effect.