DIANA JABLONSKI WRITES- Malaysia’s government has proposed new legislation to outlaw spreading “fake news” by punishing purveyors with up to six years in prison and fines of up to $130,000.

The proposed legislation would punish not only those directly responsible for “fake news” articles, but also those who participate in spreading false reports. Critics are concerned with the exact definition of “fake news,” which the bill defines as “news, information, data, and reports which is or are wholly or partly false, and an offender as somebody who by any means ‘knowingly creates, offers, publishes, prints, distributes, circulates or disseminates any fake news or publication containing fake news.’”

The term “fake news” was popularized by U.S. President Donald Trump, who regularly criticizes media for spreading what he claims are false reports and information meant to skew viewers’ perspectives. Malaysia is among several Asian countries that since Trump’s election have considered passing such legislation.

Critics question whether the bill’s purpose is to protect the country or to limit free speech of citizens, especially in regards to the country’s upcoming national election. With Prime Minister Najib Razak’s various scandals and the election coming up, it would make sense that Malaysia would try to limit negative media as a strategy to protect Razak.

“When the bill is brought forward in Parliament on the cusp of elections, it raises questions and doubts especially from the opposition,” said Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a political analyst and professor at University Malaya.

Opponents like Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party suggest that, “This bill… is a weapon to close the truth so that what is false can be upheld as true, and what is true can be reversed as false.”

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government has reassured the public that the bill will protect individuals and companies from false information being spread online, “The public wants a law to protect Malaysians from fake news,” said Salleh Said Keruak, the Malaysian minister of communications and multimedia. “If you are a victim of something that’s viral but fake, your life is ruined.”

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