Malaysia’s Anti-Fake News Act: A cog in an arsenal of anti-free speech laws and a bold promise of reforms
Malaysia’s surprising fourteenth general election result in May 2018 was widely hailed as the advent of a seismic shift for press freedom in the country. The country’s draconian media control armoury was often wantonly and oppressively applied over six decades under previous rule. Key actors from that era are now presiding over bold reforms that have been promised by the new government. In keeping with its election promises, the new government sought to repeal the hastily and badly drafted Anti-Fake News Act 2018 (AFNA). The Attorney-General Tommy Thomas wrote scathingly before the Act was passed and before taking office as the new A-G:
The draconian effect of the entire bill renders it unconstitutional…This is a disgraceful piece of legislation drafted by a desperate government determined to crush dissent and silence critics. The bill is so hastily and poorly drafted that it cannot under any circumstances be improved by amendment. Instead, it must be rejected outright. (Thomas, 2018)
The repeal effort, however, failed and the Act remains technically on the books. This article examines the Act against a backdrop of global responses to the ‘fake news’ phenomenon; provides an overview of Malaysia’s draconian armoury of laws that impinge on freedom of expression; discusses the fading optimism for proper media regulation reform in Malaysia; and concludes that meaningful media regulation reform must go beyond repealing AFNA.
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