It’s another coronavirus story (not again? #ihatecilisos) but, this time around, it involves those unverified news you might have been sharing online. At the time of writing, the Health Minister, Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad said that there have been SO MANY fake news posted online.
“We will publish a list of all the fake news, and God willing, we will do so soonest, because there are simply too much.” – Dzulkefly to Malay Mail.
And it’s so alarming that SCMP quoted, “If the new Coronavirus doesn’t get you in Malaysia, fake, racist news about it might.” The Health Ministry has been working together with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to combat these fake news by listing them out and you can check them out here and here.
Besides that, the MCMC together with the police have been working together to arrest those who are responsible for posting these fake news online. And in the most recent case, an award-winning journalist, Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias, was reportedly charged for the statements she made on her Facebook about the novel Coronavirus (2019 n-Cov).
Wan Noor Hayati. Img from KiniTV via Global Voices Advox
However, she was not the only person who was arrested for posting fake news online. At the time of writing, 12 people throughout Malaysia have been detained for posting fake news while 36 cases of fake news are currently being investigated by the MCMC and police.
And because fake news related to coronavirus are investigated by these two authorities, they are also reportedly being investigated under two provisions:
Waitamin, why are there two separate provisions to investigate fake news on Coronavirus? And with all these arrests going on, does that mean ALL of us can be charged for spreading fake news on Facebook or WhatsApp?
We got in touch with our lawyer friend, Fahri Azzat, who told us that…
Yes, your parents, aunts, uncles, neighbours and even you CAN be charged for spreading fake news…
…under the Communication and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1988.
“Yes. Whenever you use Whatsapp, or other social media applications, know that you are going to be subject to CMA98.” – Fahri to CILISOS.
One of the many fake news on coronavirus that have been circulated online. Img from Soya Cincau
Just in case you’re new to this act, the CMA provides a legal mandate to defend a free and open internet. According to the Stanford Law School, Malaysia is apparently the only country where a free and open internet is governed by a law.
And Section 233 of CMA doesn’t explicitly talk about fake news. As it turns out, the section mainly talks about the improper use of network facilities or network service in general.
“Section 233(1)(a) CMA98 is the offence of improperly using a network facility/service to send any comment, request, suggestion or communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.” – Fahri.
He also pointed out that this provision can only be used if the offender uses a device (Facebook, WhatsApp, etc) to communicate those statements. And this provision is commonly used to charge and prosecute those who make false statements on Facebook and WhatsApp.
And we can’t help but to wonder if this also applies to a person who shares false information to only one person via WhatsApp.
“Potentially. The quantity does not matter in so far as the commission of the offence is concerned. That fact is relevant to mitigating of the offender’s sentence (after his conviction).” – Fahri.
For instance, in 2019, nine Malaysians were arrested for making offensive remarks on social media that can cause racial tension. Two of them were charged for allegedly making offensive posts on the Prophet on Facebook and Twitter under Section 233 of CMA.
Chow Mun Fai, one of the offenders. Img from Ismaweb
Those who are charged for violating Section 233 of CMA can be fined up to RM50,000 or jailed up to a year or both with an additional of RM1,000 fine per day that the offending post stays up. But, back in 2016, the MCMC planned to amend CMA and we wrote an article about what would happen if the CMA is amended.
One of the points we highlighted was how the amendment would increase the fine up to RM500,000 (yes, with an extra zero) and RM100,000 additional fine per day that the offending post stays up. At the time of writing, the Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said that his ministry has completed the proposed amendments to Section 233 of CMA.
However, although most cases were being investigated under this Act, the journalist, Wan Noor, wasn’t charged under the CMA at all. And that’s because…NAH, BACA:What really happens when polis raid Malaysian media? We find out!
Posting fake news about coronavirus is considered as bad as… TERRORISM!?
“Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report—
(b) with intent to cause, or which his likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public where by any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”