KUALA LUMPUR: Kuala Lumpur’s malls are bearing the brunt of fake news surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
An audio clip circulating on social media last week featured a man speaking Mandarin and warning Malaysians to stay away from the city’s popular Bukit Bintang area as “there are many Chinese nationals there.”
Two popular malls in the city, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and Berjaya Times Square, issued statements to dispel the rumors.
Berjaya Times Square said there was “no truth” to the audio recording while the Pavilion’s management said: “We view this message to be created with malicious intent toward Pavilion KL and the businesses in the Bukit Bintang area, aimed at only raising alarm and fear- mongering among shoppers and visitors.”
Nalini Elumalai is Malaysia program officer at Article 19, an NGO focusing on freedom of expression and fake news. She said the ongoing racism targeting Chinese nationals was concerning.
“The government must address racism against these individuals or communities by complying with international human rights standards,” she told Arab News, but added that censorship or criminalisation of speech was not the way to address misinformation. She called for greater transparency and awareness among the public.
Malaysian police have taken a tough stance toward fake news, charging 12 people since January for spreading it online.
Faribel Maglin of anti-racism NGO Pusat Komas said, however, it was nothing serious and that everything was under control.
“Out of fear or excitement, people share news and this, while fake, should not be criminalised but corrected through official public channels,” she told Arab News.
Both malls lodged complaints with police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, in addition to assuring the public that adequate sterilization measures are in place to sanitize the premises.
All eyes are now on new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. But a cabinet has yet to be formed and the country does not have a health minister.
A total of 93 people have been infected, including 10 new cases confirmed on Saturday. The Health Ministry has been trying to contain the spread of the virus through online awareness campaigns and by providing accurate information on a daily basis.
“The battle against coronavirus is largely handled by the technocrats of the Health Ministry, so the absence of a minister or indeed the cabinet is not a big hurdle,” Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News.