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Malaysia's Anti-Fake News Act 2018 repealed

Editorial Staff

In the dying days of the parliament dominated by Malaysia's now disgraced prime minister Najib Razak and those close to him the government passed its Anti-Fake News Act 2018. Its stated aims were sensible but in a country where the government had regularly arrested and held without trial those who expressed opinions contrary to those of or critical of the government and the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), its true purpose was widely regarded as a tool to further suppress legitimate dissent. Its repeal was an election promise that has been kept.

It was perhaps a surprise that the debate over repeal took some three hours.

There were a number of charges brought and there has been at least one conviction. Presumably, the person convicted is now entitled to a pardon. If so, that would be unfortunate because his offence, of claiming to write a report of a murder, saying that he had personal knowledge when in fact he did not, was an example of the conduct that many countries are trying to contain.

However, there is a new-found media freedom in Malaysia, which the media is struggling to come to terms with: it has not, for several decades, been able - even encouraged - to criticise the government and, so long as the criticisms are fair and justified, that is their position. Several news websites have appeared, often written in excruciating English, with a somewhat salacious tone but being careful to write stories that they can back up. After all, fake news is just a buzzword for the long-derided opinion without substance. Where there are demonstrable facts, it's not fake.

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