Unclear fake news definition could lead to oppression

by ASILA JALIL / pic by BLOOMBERG

LAWS to combat fake news will not stop the dissemination of false news to the public because of the various platforms available now to spread information, as well as the unclear definition of fake news that could lead to the oppression of many.

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) co-director Ding Jo Ann said the ordinance to combat fake news in the country is a problem because the term fake news underlined under the law is “loose”.

“It can be used to demonise independent and credible journalists, and has been used very often by authoritarian leaders.

“Laws to combat fake news do not work. You are never going to be able to catch enough people to stop others from believing the materials they read online,” she said during a virtual panel discussion in conjunction with the launch of the Media Market Risk Ratings report by CIJ and the Global Disinformation Index.

She highlighted certain parties who have the power and capacity also have vested interest in controlling the narrative that is being made available to the public.

The government is among the actors who have vested interest in managing the stories that are being published, but Ding said the Internet has enabled a constant chain of information to be widely spread.

“It is the people in power who often get to decide what is fake news and what is not. They are not an unbiased party and they have a huge vested interest in controlling the news.

“If they are truly interested in combating fake news, they should support credible public service broadcasting, so people have a place to go to check their trusted news source,” she added.

In March, the government had gazetted an ordinance purportedly to combat fake news relating to Covid-19 or the emergency proclamation.

Many parties found this alarming and a means to stifle news reporting and silence the voice of every citizen.

The previous Pakatan Harapan administration had abolished the Anti-Fake News Act in 2019, which was welcomed by local media practitioners at that time.

On the Media Market Risk Ratings report, it found that most Malaysian news sites lacked operational checks and balances, especially regarding ownership, finances and editorial policies.

It noted this resulted in a lack of transparency, minimal ways for the public to hold the media accountable, and casting doubts over the media’s motives or conflicts of interest when reporting.

“Furthermore, the domains’ overall ratings decreased significantly by operational shortcomings due to a lack of transparent information about a site’s beneficial owners and its sources of funding, as well as operational and editorial policies.

“Based on a scale of 0 to 100, Malaysian sites scored 15 for attribution as well as policies for ensuring accuracy, 30 for ownership transparency and 31 for funding transparency,” said the report.

The study included 31 sites in English, Malay and Mandarin.

Meanwhile, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah urged the media on various platforms, including television, radio, print and online, to intensify efforts to identify and uncover fake news.

He said in a statement yesterday that there has been a significant increase in the spread of false information or news recently, whether about the pandemic, vaccination, health, social or political. The situation can cause confusion and concerns among the public, and affect efforts to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic effectively.

“In the context of disseminating information, the media not only has the role of reporting authentic and accurate news, but also to protect the people from false news that could potentially undermine the government’s efforts in combating Covid-19 and preserving the country’s prosperity and stability.”