The Barisan Nasional (BN) government in Malaysia is open to criticisms but this must not lead to the spread of fake news or false information about the government, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Wednesday (April 11).
Speaking at the launch of the inaugural National Journalists’ Day (Hawana) in Kuala Lumpur, Najib was quoted in a Bernama report as saying: “We want to develop a matured democracy. We can criticise the government, but do not spread false news (about the government).”
His words come at a time when Malaysia’s preparing for the upcoming 14th general election set for May 9.
He said that the government’s openness to criticisms was a vital factor in fostering and developing a matured democracy and that all contests must be done in a matured and democratic way.
“Compete like a man. Don’t compete below the belt,” he added.
He cited an example of how BN fell victim to fake news in the last general election when news spread about the alleged presence of 40,000 phantom voters from Bangladesh and the black out incident during the counting of the ballots.
Najib said that if the news were true, it would need a number of 747 jumbo aircraft to bring Bangladeshis to Malaysia.
Many chose to believe the news, he added, including those who call themselves ‘urban intellectuals’.
He also took the opportunity to remind his audience that while the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 has received the Royal assent, and has been gazetted, the new law would not curtail the freedom of journalists.
“I know that some journalists are worried that this new Act will be used to restrict their freedom in reporting…But I would like to say that this is not the right view as the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, through Section 8A, has already made it an offence to publish any fake news,” said Najib, according to a report in The Star.
The new law was passed in Parliament on April 2 and came into effect on Wednesday.