Journalists have always viewed any move to regulate the media industry with suspicion. When the Mahathir Administration was forcing the OSA down our throats in the 80s, the NUJ marched against it. Every year we called on the government to review and abolish laws stifling our freedom. Even when some among us came up with the idea for a Media Council, so that we could "self-regulate", the rest of us viewed the idea suspiciously. It is in journalists' nature to be skeptical. It's not that we, journalists, think we should be above the law; it's just that we know politicians - and businesses - given a chance, will alway try to control the media for their own interests rather than for the interest of the larger society.
But where the proposed anti-fake news law is concerned, I am very clear where I stand. Fake news is not just a threat to society, it is already a menace that must be curbed, stopped, regulated. Read Malaysia proposes up to 10 years' jail, fines for publishers of "fake news"
Any journalist who says he or she is against an attempt to curb fake news, purportedly in the name of press freedom, is talking cock.
Half truths and outright lies are not journalism.
I disagree with the NUJ when it says that thought the target of the Bill is those who create fake news, "media organisations would also likely be stifled" by the anti-fake news law. If anyone were to benefit, it will be these media organisations, whose job it is to always verify the news that it sends out. I believe that fake news has, to quite a great extent, damaged the credibility of traditionally-trained journalists.
If anyone is to fear the anti-fake news law, it would be the likes of Sarawak Report, Malaysian Chronicle and even The Malaysian Today, who are known to "shoot first, ask questions later". And a lot of Facebookers, bloggers and other social media "journalists".
But having said that, I stand with the NUJ on one important point:
"We are gravely concerned in allowing on party to have unquestionable power to remove articles it disagrees with ... (this) could be easily abused." - NUJ president Chin Sung Chew (Critics react to anti-fake news bill)
There's talk that the power to determine a fake news will be left to the Courts. I think that's most impractical. Judges would preside over cases but they should not be tasked with deciding what's fake and what's not. YB Salleh Said Keruak should consider having a special committee comprising journalists, editors and communication experts to study every fake news case. Get an ex-judge to chair the committee.
The committee does not have to be bipartisan like the PAC (which investigated the 1MDB issue) because this special committee on fake news, if you ask me, should not have any politician on board. None. Not even ex-politicians.
I would also review the penalties proposed by the Bill. RM500,000 is a huge sum even for media corporations to pay. We just need to remember a time, also during the 80s and then the 90s, when the Courts were happily meting out huge awards for defamation cases taken out by cronies against newspaper companies and journalists.
We agreed that this was unfair and excessive so why do we want to go back to those dark ages?
Spotting a fake news is the easy part. We will also need to determine if the publisher of the fake news was aware that it was fake, or had taken steps to try and verify and validate the news.
What if the news was from "official" sources and published by a government media? For example, the "tanah Felda hilang" issue, which was later confirmed by none other the PM himself to be "inaccurate reporting". Was there ill intentions there? Should we have jailed anyone for that "fake news"?