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Mixed reactions from academicians to law to check fake news

Nadhirah Sofea
Written by Nadhirah Sofea

KUALA LUMPUR – March 29, 2018:  Academicians specialising in media studies are generally of the view that the judiciary should decide what is fake news.

Mohd. Amirul Akhbar Mohd. Zulkifli, the director of the Institute of Journalism Studies at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), thinks that the judiciary should be capable of deciding what is fake news, following the tabling of the Anti-Fake News Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.

However, he also thinks that the bill needs to be further discussed by the policymakers.

Amirul nonetheless questions the need for such a law because there are already others in place to regulate the media, referring to the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Sedition Act, for example.

He further suggests that enforcement be further refined.

“There are a lot of laws but there is no effective enforcement. The government should do more in terms of enforcement,” he said.

Amirul’s colleague, senior lecturer Ahmad Farami Abdul Karim, agrees that the judiciary should be empowered to decide while also adhering to the doctrine of separation of powers.

“We need to see the separation of powers… the judiciary has to do all the judgments to regulate all cases.

“But people should not be worried about this proposed law. In fact, it will be beneficial to those who uphold the truth.”

Farami said it should not be a problem to define which news is fake as the definition is objective — that is news is when there are no facts to support it.

He believes that the proposal is necessary because the existing laws, which were supposed to govern the matter, are not specific or comprehensive enough.

“With the existence of social media today, Malaysia needs to have a specific law to counter the fake news problem,” he added.

Datuk Dr. Megat Al Imran Yasin, a senior lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, said this problem must be handled by both the courts and the government.

“We do not know which news is fake. The definition of fake news itself is still unclear. Facts could still be subjected to scrutiny. Some will accept them as correct but some may not. I’m afraid that this proposed law has the risk of being politicised,” he said.

Note: While the court makes that final judgment, under the system in Malaysia nothing gets there by bypassing the sole prosecuting authority — the Attorner-General’s Chambers. So the critical first step — whether or not a complaint has merit to be referred to the court — rests entirely with the AGC, unless someone is proposing that the system be changed to allow a complainant a direct route to the court. As it is the court never decides what case is brought before it.

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Nadhirah Sofea

Nadhirah Sofea