I remember a huge debate being made in 2012, especially on Twitter on the implementation of the Automated Enforcement System (AES) on Malaysian roads. Being a proponent of road safety, my argument was: if you do not want to get caught, abide by the law. In 2014, as a result of the installation of 14 cameras, the rate of fatal accidents was reduced by 36.84 percent in just eight months.
That was a time when a journalist in China was arrested for single-handedly causing the shares of a company to tumble. The journalist claimed that the company had lost state assets and had engaged in abnormal sales practices and false financial reporting. After being arrested a year later, the journalist admitted to have been paid over US$ 70,000 to write the “news”.
Sensationalism sells – and as the saying goes, fear sells until you stop buying it. Fox News political commentator, Chris Wallace, once noted that The Washington Post and the New York Times were biased towards sensationalism because, instead of getting the masses to read through the Obama Healthcare Bill, they asked them to go through Sarah Palin’s e-mail trove.
So bad is the effect of fake news that Germany passed a law to combat that serves a fine of up to £43 million in January 2018. “There should be just as little tolerance for criminal incitement on social networks as on the streets,” said Heiko Maas, the German Minister of Justice.
In 2013, someone sent a fake Twitter post from the Associated Press’s account saying that Obama had died in an explosion. The market almost immediately reacted and US$130 billion in stock value was wiped out.
This country has not been spared from the spread of fake news either. Global economic downturn is being blamed on the government; global oil prices is being blamed on the government. When the authorities here in Malaysia did not investigate the alleged theft of 1MDB money by Reza Aziz and Jho Low, they are being accused of protecting the duo. Even one former Minister dared to ask why didn’t the Malaysian authorities seize the motor yacht Equanimity when she herself could find it?
The global economic downturn is called as such because it is a global phenomenon. It does not affect this country alone. The same goes to global oil prices – so any promise by the Opposition that it would bring down retail fuel prices is just a promise that cannot be realistically achieved, unless we want to end up like Venezuela.
Malaysia did not investigate the alleged theft of 1MDB money because that allegation was made in the USA by people with no locus standi – 1MDB has not lost any money and did not make the report. The Malaysian authorities do not have any power to investigate any crime committed abroad except in the following situations: first, it is seditious in character; secondly, it involves a breach of the Official Secrets Act; thirdly, if the Attorney-General agrees in writing that the offence committed abroad has grave consequences to the public security and safety of Malaysians; and, fourthly, if they are inchoate offences.
With the Anti-Fake News bill, another category is now needs to be added to the Extra-Territorial Offences Act. You can no longer spread lies that would be detrimental to the health of the economy especially, abroad.
The Anti-Fake News bill is something that should have been in place at least 10 years ago. Had it been around, I doubt if we would see the “Rosmah used 1MDB money to buy diamonds” message of WhatsApp being circulated back into our mobile phone every now and then despite Rafizi Ramli’s desperate attempt to say it was all a joke.
The joke is now on those who love to spread fake news. I am now laughing.