Calls for safeguards to prevent abuses of the Communications and Multimedia Commission's (MCMC) new hotline should not be taken as a "free-for-all" for hate speech, according to DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang.
Lim said this is as race relations in the country have become more polarised since the last general election.
“(This is) because of a vicious phenomenon in the Internet era, which has given new wings to hate speech, endowing it with great destructive power, especially in plural societies, unless checked,” he said in a statement today.
As such, Lim said hate speech to "incite racial and religious distrust, animosity and hatred in plural Malaysia" should not be permitted.
Yesterday, Umno senator Khairul Azwan Harun criticised Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo over the new MCMC hotline to monitor complaints on inflammatory social media posts.
Khairul Azwan (photo) labelled the move undemocratic and tantamount to the policing of free speech.
He said this marked a huge turnaround for Gobind's party DAP, which used to be the “most progressive-minded.”
“Khairul Azwan is right if he is asking for safeguards against abuses with regard to the MCMC hotline, but wrong and utterly irresponsible if he is proposing a ‘free-for-all’ for hate speech to incite racial and religious distrust, animosity and hatred in plural Malaysia," Lim said.
“... Already, we are seeing the destructive effects of hate speech, using lies, falsehoods, fake news to incite suspicion, doubt, fear and hatred, pitting race against race and religion against religion in Malaysia in the past 15 months."
The DAP leader said Malaysians should cherish what they achieved during GE14, which saw a change in government for the first time in the country’s history.
However, he said that “like democracy, free speech is hard-won, but easily lost.”
Even so, Lim echoed his political secretary Syahredzan Johan in calling for the MCMC to spell out clear guidelines on its threshold for what constitutes "offensive" content.
Syahredzan, a civil liberties lawyer, said that while there is a need to tackle hate speech, probes and arrests should not take place just because posts are considered offensive.
"The threshold for investigations, including arrests, must be high. Must have clear guidelines on what sort of reports can trigger an investigation.
"Government should, at the upcoming parliamentary session, amend Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to make it clear that only posts which incite violence or hate speech, are criminalised, to prevent abuse,” he tweeted yesterday.
Section 233 deals with the improper use of network facilities or network services related to obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive content.