An Open Letter to Dato’ Sri Azalina Othman Said

Dear Dato’ Sri,

I hope this finds you well. My name is Aiman, I am 33 years old, currently residing in Kampung Masjid, Beserah, Kuantan. I was called to write you this open letter to air out some concerns I have regarding the new bill motion that you tabled in Parliament on Monday, 26th March 2018 – Rang Undang-undang Anti Berita Palsu 2018 or the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018.

Since the first reading on Monday, much coverage has been done on this Bill, by both the national media as well as the alternative media. However, there are some parts of the Bill that I do not understand. The extent of my education in Law is just the basics of Business Law which was a compulsory subject when I was doing my bachelor, and even then, I couldn’t understand the whole thing.

So, as the de-facto minister in charge of Laws, I think that I should address it to you and ask you personally rather than making my own speculations, since even after reading the articles and commentaries for and against the bill, I still couldn’t fully understand the by-lines in the Bill.

  1. What constitutes as “Fake News”

According to the interview conducted by NST on March 26th 2018, you mentioned that the Bill defines Fake News as any news, information, data and report, either a part of or wholly false whether in an article, visual or audio recording or in any form that can visualise words or ideas. So my first question would be, what constitutes as “Fact” or “Real News” in accordance to the Bill? If, a news report or article that was written with physical, testimonial, empirical and statistical facts, will it be accepted as “Real News”?

  1. Who determines what is Fake and what is Fact

Should a Minister, Deputy Minister, or anyone from the Ministry come up with a statement that totally contradicts the report by any branch of the statutory body, whose word should the citizen treat as “Fact” and whose word should the citizen treat as “Fake”.

For example, If a report released by Bank Negara directly contradicts a statement by a Minister, the citizen should know whose words we need to take as Fact. We need to know who determines and defines what is Fake and what is Fact?

In the example above, would the Minister or Bank Negara be charged under this proposed act?

  1. Would investigative journalism be categorised as Fake News

A journalist investigating an individual or an organisation, has 2 or more credible sources and is able to present evidence to support their reporting; but the investigated individual or organisation categorically denies the report. Can and will the journalist be penalised under the Anti-Fake News 2018 Act?

  1. Would satirical works be considered as Fake News

Would artistic works – paintings, sculpture, mixed-media, caricature, literary, plays, music, dance, and film – that criticise or satirically portray individuals or organisations be considered as Fake News?

  1. Religious Preachers

Would works and words of religious preachers – videos, theological literature, audio recordings, et cetera – be considered as Fake News? Religion is, by the end of the day, based on FAITH, not necessarily FACT, and could easily fall under the definition that the Bill proposes – either part or wholly false – since there’s still a myriad of things in religion that still couldn’t be proven, historically and scientifically.

Today, we still base our FAITH on books and words of “messengers” or “divine beings” who lived hundreds and thousands of years ago. The existence of some of them, are yet to be proven.

Even today, we have people claiming that they received “divine” inspiration to either run for public office, or waiting for “divine” inspiration to call for election. Some even claimed that God spoke to them. Personally, I would like to ask them what God’s voice sounds like and how did God speak to them. I would also like to ask if they have ever sought professional psychiatric help, instead of taking their words as fact, but that’s just me. Can and will the individuals who make all these ludicrous claims, be charged under this Bill?

  1. Damning, unsubstantiated statements

Will bigoted and one sided reports, articles, forums or statements on foreign workers, immigrants, LGBTQ community, Orang Asal, and minority ethnic groups or any other minority groups be considered as Fake News?

As we draw closer to the upcoming General Election, I think we could all expect reports, articles or statements like “The Rocket Party is trying to establish a Christian Nation!” or “The Eclipse Party is trying to push for LGBTQ agenda!” or “The Keris Party is the only salvation for the Malays!”.

Do they all fall under the Fake News category? Because as far as we are concerned, no-one is trying to establish a Christian Nation, as it is clearly stated that we are a secular state; no-one is definitely pushing for any LGBTQ agenda, heck, no party is even fighting for their basic human rights; and lastly, as a human being who happens to fall under the Malay ethnicity, I don’t think any political party can bring me salvation. If anything, hard work and perseverance are the way to salvation, in my humble opinion.

  1. International Reports

What are Malaysians to do with international reports on Malaysia? Reports on 1MDB, EC’s redelineation, and the present-day government’s attempt to gerrymander are very much covered by international press and media. There are even on-going court cases on 1MDB in at least 7 countries. Are we, as citizens, supposed to ignore all these facts and information?

The Pasir Salak MP said in a Parliamentary session during the second tabling of the motion for this Act that Malaysia should be governed by the law of our land – Malaysian court and legal system- in which I am in total agreement with, but what are we to do when the present-day government refuses to even talk or acknowledge the reports?

The response that we get from the present-day government is that all these news are “Fake News”. or that these foreign nations and press have hidden agendas, but what are their hidden agendas? Or is the present-day government trying to indicate that these countries are somehow victims of some elaborate false evidence conspiracy?

How is it possible for the Indonesian government & the FBI to find the infamous yacht that was supposedly bought using the sovereign fund intended for Malaysians, when the Malaysian Royal Police Force failed to do so? Being the son of a former police officer, I refuse to believe that the Malaysian Royal Police Force with their vast intelligence network was not able to locate the yacht or the “owner”. I refuse to believe that the Malaysian Royal Police Force is that incompetent, and I sincerely hope that I am not wrong in that assumption. On top of that, our local national mainstream media failed to report the seizure, in fact none of them even acknowledged it in their reporting, the very next day.

Thankfully, Indonesia’s Tempo reported it. Are we, under this proposed bill, able to safely categorise that this report by Tempo, which was founded by Goenawan Muhammad, was reporting Fake News?

  1. Existing Act

You also mentioned in the same NST interview that the existing Act, such as our Libel law under the Penal Code, the Printing Press and Publication Act, and the Communications and Multimedia Act, are incapable to address the nature of increasingly complex offences in line with rapid technological progress. Ergo, why not table amendments to the existing law instead of introducing a totally new bill with such a vague definition of what constitutes “Fake News”?

Amendments to other laws have been done before in parliament. Why not this time? What’s the rush?

  1. What does this mean to our freedom of speech?

Since the bill covers all mediums and platform, what can we, the people, expect of our right to the freedom of speech? Should I, in my social media posting, write “I do not and will not support Mr. NR because I don’t think that he is a just, intelligent, nor is he a good leader, for Malaysia”, or “The plight that we are facing today was caused by Mr. MM’s failure to pave the way for better leadership in Malaysia”? Will I be penalised for voicing out my opinion in a public sphere?

Should any Malaysian living abroad share a news report that they read in that country which is damning to Malaysia and in voicing out their concerns, will they be penalised too? Where is the protection to our freedom of speech then? Where is our freedom to voice out our opinion? Where is our right to be concerned? Where is our right to disagree?

How can we claim to be a free society if we don’t respect the people’s right to free speech and expression, without the fear of retaliation, censorship or sanction? Even online trolls, that I fundamentally disagree with and utterly despise, especially the way they harass and abuse other people, I would still not take away their right to voice out their opinion, although I sincerely hope that they would do away with their obscene name calling and slanderous abuse. For the most part, Malaysians do not stoop to their level of intelligence, but even the trolls are but a small price to pay for a free society.

Please, do not, for one second think that people who disagree with you are unpatriotic. Not one Malaysian that I know hates this land; what we hate is the oppressive way we are being governed; what we hate is the way we are continuously being segregated; what we hate is the way we are made to feel that we are never good enough for this country; what we hate is the way Malaysia is becoming a laughing stock; what we hate is how the leadership promotes discord among the people instead of bringing us closer; what we hate is how corruption, nepotism, criminal cover-ups are ruining and tearing this country apart; what we hate is that we are being made fools of, by the very people we elected to represent us.

As you can see Dato’ Sri, these are just some of the concerns I have regarding the Bill, I could list out more hypothetical scenarios, but I wouldn’t want to take more of your time, and I think you already get the picture, that I am trying to show you.

The Bill’s vague and broad definition could easily include honest and marginal mistakes as well as statements that may be a matter of opinion. You can see why I would think that the Bill was  designed to safe-guard the present-day government, instead of Malaysian citizens, as it will justify the present-day government’s future action to hunt down journalists, human rights activists and defenders, as well as critics. Shouldn’t the law of the land protect her citizens like the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017, that you introduced, instead of victimising them?

Your esteemed colleague, Datuk Seri Nazri was quoted by “The Star” on 25 November, 2017 (Headline – Nazri : Barisan should learn from Trump) saying that Barisan Nasional should take heed of US President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign strategy. Is this what he was referring to? To follow the strategy of a man who clearly has great disdain for the truth? A man who clearly is a misogynist, sexist, homophobic, racist, bigoted, arrogant, corrupt and time-and-time again proven liar?

Yes, Trump won the presidential election, but at what cost? Do we really want to push Malaysia, more into divisiveness, than to address the problems, and work together towards a better future?

Fact, not Act is what the people need. 
Fact, not Act is what will protect Malaysians from Fake News.

Thank you.

Your Fellow Malaysian,
Aiman Syaaban Azahari
1st April 2018,

Kampung Beserah, Kuantan, Pahang

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(The views expressed are those of the contributor)

Stock photo.

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