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Brave New World

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Do we need new law for ‘fake news’?

THERE is going to be a law against fake news, it seems. How reassuring.

Personally, I hate the term “fake news” because every time it is used, it brings to mind a certain orange individual who pokes his tiny index fingers in the air and petulantly decries any news that he doesn’t agree with as fake news.

The overuse of the term is now actually a threat to logic and reason because if anything can simply be decried as false (as opposed to being proven as false) by the powerful and small-minded, then what is the fate of truth?

However, it can’t be denied that in this information age, falsities are easily disseminated.

But do we need a new law to fight this? And more importantly, will this new law be used to quell dissent?

I can’t comment on the proposed law because I have not seen a draft of the Bill; however, my fears remain. Let me explain why.

When the Penal Code was amended to include offences that are a “threat to parliamentary democracy”, we were promised that it was aimed at terrorist activities. Instead, we see it as a tool to investigate and detain organisers of peaceful demonstrations.

Our multimedia laws have provisions that are supposed to protect individuals against cyber offences such as “revenge porn” and the like.

Instead, the law is used to punish news portals that are simply reporting the news. It’s just that there are people who don’t like what is being reported.

And specifically on the so-called false news (notice how I am studiously avoiding the popular term), let us not forget that the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 has a provision on the publication of such things already. And by the way, this provision was used against the late Irene Fernandez. For what reason?

Because she chose to expose the appalling conditions that undocumented migrants had to endure when in detention.

So it would appear that we have a history of laws being made and the people being told that the laws are for one thing and instead they are used for another thing, namely, the suppression and oppression of legitimate democratic dissent and the freedom of expression.

This being the case, I think that no matter how they may cloak the proposed new law under seemingly noble intentions, history has shown that the use of such laws is hardly noble.

I apologise for writing a cynical and rather dreary piece at this time when we should instead be celebrating and having a good time.

So I will end on a happy note, at least for me – Tottenham Hotspur 1 Arsenal 0.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.