The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) announced on 23 March that it was working with the police to investigate five new cases against individuals accused of spreading ‘fake news’ about coronavirus. The investigations are proceeding under Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA). In total, the MCMC has received 43 complaints regarding people spreading false information about the virus. According to the MCMC announcement, six individuals have already been charged under Section 505(b) of the penal code. ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly called for the reform of the CMA and penal code, drawing attention to the specific sections used in these cases.
ARTICLE 19 said:
“The government’s reliance on Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act and Section 505 of the penal code to combat misinformation about the coronavirus is very worrying. These provisions are framed very broadly and open the door to arbitrary application by authorities.
“The Malaysian government appears to be relying primarily on criminal proceedings to stem the spread of misinformation during this unprecedented global crisis. Criminal measures and custodial sentences should be used only as a last resort for the most serious and dangerous forms of speech.
“The efforts of the Malaysian government to direct people to accurate sources of information are welcome. As Malaysia continues to grapple with the pandemic, more resources should be directed towards these types of initiatives. The government should also prioritise transparency in its own operations and move forward with plans to enact right to information legislation.”
Please read ARTICLE 19’s briefing on misinformation and the coronavirus.