Let’s name this what it is. ‘Legislating against Fake News’ is BN’s predictable euphemism for pre-election State Censorship.
Najib’s favourite ministerial cheerleaders, namely the likes of Azalina Othman and Salleh Keruak, have made the move their top priority for the coming session of parliament, which is absolutely no surprise since Najib and his BN party are simply terrified about what may next come out about their rampant corruption during the upcoming campaign.
Najib is not in a position to defeat criticism by counter-arguments or convincing factual rebuttals, owing to the fact that he has been demonstrated to have stolen billions of ringgit from the public. He is busily setting about rigging yet another election and is trying to cover up a dire economic situation by covert currency manipulations (throwing Central Bank money at the ringgit) and lies.
So, instead of allowing for the normal discourse of democracy to take place, he is resorting to the suppression of discourse instead. In the same way, he sacked his Attorney General when that supposedly inviolate officer of the law issued corruption proceedings against him in 2015.
Legislation against ‘Fake News’ will, in his mind, represent the handy extra weapon in an armoury which he has built up since being exposed as a world class kleptocrat. These include new ’emergency powers’ that enable him to by-pass the authority of the King; new ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation letting him arrest and imprison whoever he likes (so far largely used against critics of corruption) along with a stack of new media laws, which have enabled, for example, the banning of sites such as Sarawak Report in Malaysia.
In this respect, Najib has fulfilled the template for the sort of ‘authoritarian, third-world autocrat’, which many in America have condemned President Donald Trump for encouraging thanks to moaning about ‘Fake News’ (a term originally coined in response to false statements promoted by pro-Trump websites).
An earlier embarrassment came when Najib and his enormous entourage turned up in Washington last autumn and occupied the Trump International five star hotel at enormous expense to the Malaysian public, in the very manner widely warned of when the President failed to properly divest his business interests.
Now, with this bandying about of the concept of Fake News as a way of suppressing freedom of speech, Najib is again doing just what Trump critics in the US warned that their President’s irresponsible use of the term would achieve: encouraging seedy, authoritarian regimes to grab the excuse for a crackdown. This from the Guardian newspaper, for example:
… since Trump brought it to public attention the term has also been borrowed by leaders of countries around the world – particularly those in charge of authoritarian regimes.
Although Trump has claimed he invented the phrase fake news, and boasted that it was “one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with”, the term existed before the president, when it was used to describe deliberately misleading and in some cases completely fabricated news stories.
But by co-opting “fake news” to describe any form of negative media coverage, Trump has helped countries from Venezuela to Syria to Myanmar explain away atrocities and human rights abuses.”
The Republican Senator Jeff Flake gave a recent speech ramming home the point:
“Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press but inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language.”
Now, on cue, Malaysians are being forced to watch as their own leader, Najib, goes straight into action just as predicted, using the mantra of “Fake News” to excuse oppression of free speech and criticism of corruption in high places.
Azalina is of course making great play of ‘consultations with academics’ and such, in order to discuss how best to counter this alleged dark concern about the ‘problem’ of Fake News. However, no one in Malaysia is under any illusions whatsoever about the real purpose of the move, which is to silence the voice of the opposition and indeed members of the public as BN’s bulldozing GE14 election campaign plans get underway.
Bear in mind that the ruling party already fully controls all the mainstream media. This is a domination and abuse of power built up over many decades by introducing such instruments as ‘licences’ to print or broadcast, which are withheld from non-supporting organisations. Worse, the government of Malaysia has even gone so far as to introduce officials under the title of “News Controllers”, whose role is to censor news in its favour in all broadcast stations.
Cyber-space has provided a challenge to that accustomed censorship, since Malaysia entered the online revolution with a pledge from the then PM (the present opposition leader Dr Mahathir) that this electronic platform would remain free from official interferences. Yet Najib has been trying to bully users and restrict the internet ever since, introducing measure after measure to curb online criticism using such specious excuses as ‘preventing public alarm’ or ‘promotion of false news’.
Under such instruments, websites such as this one have been ‘banned’ for ‘spreading the false news’ that the Prime Minister diverted a billion dollars of public money into his personal bank account; detailing that there was a charge sheet drawn up against him and revealing that it was the prosecutor who framed the charge sheet and then leaked it to Sawarak Report, who was then brutally murdered shortly after.
Except, none of the above WAS false news – all these matters and more have been corroborated to be entirely true. In Malaysia, ‘Fake News’ is being defined not information that is untrue, but rather information that is inconvenient to Najib.
Legal bullying has already caused all the online media in Malaysia to tip-toe through every story in acts of self-censorship that already restricts all reporting to the vaguest of critisim even over the most egregious of issues. But, even that is too much for Najib, who faced with his own guilt can tolerate nothing but slavish praise and total silence over his own and his government’s failings.
To combat even the gentle criticism that does exist on subjects such as the gross political corruption that plagues the country, Najib has already recruited the four thousand strong ‘Cyber Army’ paid for at enormous public expense to pose as genuine public supporters of his regime.
However, he and his colleagues in BN’s political bunker plainly fear this is not enough. Indeed, if these paid illiterates kid anyone, it must be themselves. Najib’s problem is that he is doing battle with the truth, so his only weapons are censorship and repression, justified under the ludicrous excuse of ‘combatting Fake News’.
What Najib fears most as he tackles a dreaded upcoming election, where he knows that the entire country knows he is a crook, is that more revelations may come out in the weeks months and days before electors cast their votes.
He has done all he can to gerrymander and to harass and undermine the opposition. Their de facto leader is in jail and several opposition figures face unjust imprisonment and spruious disqualifications on drummed up charges. Officials are doing everything they can to block the opposition coalition from even registering as a party to contend the polls! Najib has ruled out foreign observers on the outrageous grounds that there are no abuses in Malaysian elections, despite volumes of evidence to the contrary and marches by hundreds of thousands in protest against just such corruption.
Rest assured, the PM has also lined up more billions, stolen from the public purse, to once again throw at his political allies and individual voters once he has fired the starting gun on this campaign.
However, what spooks him is that the likes of Sarawak Report and the rest of the online media, along with the liberated online population of Malaysia may get hold of new evidence of further crimes… for example, those details about how he is financing GE14.
He is right to fear this. The danger he dreads is that such information may explode before the election this time, rather than after as happened with GE13.
Najib’s solution is to draw up as many instruments as possible to silence, instill fear and issue threats against anyone who criticises rather than praises himself and his corrupted allies between now and GE14.
That is the real meaning of ‘legislating against Fake News’, as everyone understands in both Malaysia and the United States, where President Trump will be roundly criticised for irresponsibly encouraging authoritarian, anti-democratic kleptocrats like Najib. For all his bad tempered cavilling, Trump will never be able to oppress his people and their media with legislation of the type planned by Azalina, Salleh and their BN cronies in Malaysia.
Whether such laws can cover up the truth and disable the opposition as intended is another thing entirely.