The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia shares the concerns raised by our fellow journalists in Malaysia from the National Union of Journalists, the Institute of Journalists and the WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Committee on the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 which will be debated in parliament today (Thursday, March 29) despite issues raised by various stakeholders such as how it may infringe on media freedom through hefty penalties proposed for offences, that journalists may be remanded simply because there is a complaint against their reporting, and the fact that a court order obtained by the government to take down articles cannot be challenged.
In addition to this, the FCCM is concerned about the lack of clarity on how fake news is defined in the bill. The new law proposes that courts should be the independent arbitrators to verify if all efforts have been taken by a journalist to determine if a story was false before publishing. We believe the 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.
We also believe there should be further clarification on 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. We understand actually executing this clause will be difficult without extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance agreements. We 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.
While we acknowledge the problems and issues that led to the proposal of legislation to combat fake news, and welcome efforts to brief the media after the bill was tabled, like our fellow journalist groups, we believe the media, as a key stakeholder, should have been consulted prior to the tabling of the bill in Parliament, as the Minister in charge had promised.
During the briefings, we were assured by Cabinet ministers that the law is not targeted at media practitioners, but to contain the growing number of complaints received from the public over fake news and harassment. We hope that this pledge is honoured by this and future governments, should this Bill be passed by Parliament.
We call on Malaysian lawmakers to consider all the concerns raised by media before voting on the Bill today.