The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) shares the concerns raised by our fellow journalists in Malaysia over the comments by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 (AFNA) which his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition had promised prior to the May 9 election to repeal if it forms government.
We welcome Tun Mahathir's attention to the issue but a recent statement that it should be redefined so that the public can tell real from fake news, with due respect, misses the point.
The point is it is not up to the government, or Parliament, to define to the public what is real or what is fake. This was underlined by Dr Mahathir's own newly-designated Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng the next day.
The law is defective in other ways as well. The extra-territorial clause in the bill which states that any person deemed to have committed this offence overseas can be prosecuted in Malaysia as a Malaysian regardless of his or her nationality. The FCCM are concerned that foreign correspondents working in Malaysia be held accountable if a complainant believes content published or hosted by our organisations overseas contains fake news.
We reiterate that the news industry should self-regulate and the courts should only be involved if there is a criminal prosecution. Even then, it will need the opinion of media professionals to be in a position to decide what is good journalism.
As always, the FCCM is keen to work closely with the government of the day. Having had briefings with the previous administration on this issue - albeit, belatedly after a draft had already been tabled to Parliament and then rushed through to be gazetted - we would welcome an opportunity to engage the current government on this, and other matters pertaining to news coverage in the country.
We believe that it is a crucial time for Malaysia, and free, transparent and responsible reporting should be facilitated by the government, not inhibited.