KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians have welcomed a parliamentary move to repeal an anti-fake news law with a demand that other equally repressive laws also be abolished.
The controversial law was introduced on April 11 — days before the announcement of the general election — by the-then Prime Minister Najib Razak and was met with harsh criticism by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.
On Wednesday, Datuk Liew Vui Keong, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, tabled a bill to abolish the Anti-Fake News Act (AFN).
The federal government has decided to repeal the law because of change in policy by the new administration led by PH.
The second reading of the bill will take place during the current Parliament, which ends on Aug. 16.
Issues relating to “fake news” now will be dealt with under the country’s existing laws, such as such as the Penal Code, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
However, earlier cases before the implementation of the repeal bill will be handled under the controversial law, even though it may have been abolished.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, an expert on Malaysia politics at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, welcomed the tabling of the bill as a “positive development.”
“This signifies that the new government is serious about fulfilling its electoral pledges,” he told Arab News.
However, he voiced concern about other repressive and antiquated laws constraining freedoms of speech and the press in the country.
“If the government is sincere about creating more democratic space, those laws should also be repealed,” he said.
Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar, who is facing sedition charges leveled by the previous Razak government, also welcomed the repealing of the law, but is critical of the PH government’s decision to focus on the AFN bill.
“It is not right for the government to abolish the AFN law and at the same time to maintain the other draconian laws,” Zunar told Arab News.
“The government needs to reform and repeal all the laws. If the laws still exist, there is no guarantee that the current government will not use it again,” warned Zunar.
Eric Paulsen, legal director of Fortify Rights, a human rights organization based in Southeast Asia, told Arab News: “We certainly welcome the government’s bill to repeal the AFN law since it was an overboard piece of legislation that exaggerated the problems posed by fake news.”
The Malaysian government promised in May to abolish laws that threaten civil liberties and media freedom as part of its election manifesto. “It would be prudent for the government to review all these other laws as soon as possible so that they are not abused,” said Paulsen.
Gayathry Venkiteswaran, an assistant professor in the media and politics department at the University of Nottingham (Malaysia campus), also welcomed the government move.
She said that it is more important for the government to address media literacy when dealing with issues such as “fake news.”