Curbing fake news an attempt to further stifle free speech?

COMMENT | In October 1938, a series of news stories were broadcast on air. The radio bulletins announced that aliens had invaded Earth and this cause massive panic among the public in the United States. People started packing and evacuating cities.

Eventually, people realised that the news bulletins were fake. It was indeed part of a radio drama narrated by actor Orson Welles from the book ‘The War of The Worlds’ written by HG Wells in 1898.

So this just proves that fake news has always been in existence. It did not just come about now because of social media. It is, however, much easier to spread because people can now do so with just a click of the mouse or stroke of the keyboard.

Recently, minister in charge of law Azalina Othman made a number of statements saying that she and the government are looking at introducing a new legislation to help curb fake news. The reasoning for this is because it could be a threat to national security.

Undeniably, fake news is a problem. It created panic in 1938 and it can create chaos now too. However, the 1938 broadcast of ‘The War of the Worlds’ was meant to be a fictional story. It was never intended to be dupe or trick people. People were just too oblivious to notice.

Today, that obliviousness is still a problem. People are still very gullible and everything that they see on their Facebook timeline or in their WhatsApp chat box is considered true. They don’t think twice about trying to verify information before forwarding it out.

Azalina said that she and her team are now actively meeting all the different stakeholders to gather thoughts and suggestions for the new law. They are meeting people across the board, from the Attorney-General’s Chambers and even members of the opposition.

She said that Malaysia is a multicultural and multireligious society. This would mean that a lot would be at stake if something negative were to happen because of the spread of fake news. The government is afraid that there may be quarters that would destabilise things.

However, I am quite sceptical. Why is there a need to create new laws to curb fake news? Aren’t the existing laws sufficient enough to do that? I mean, as I have mentioned earlier...

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