The Malaysia Communications and Digital Ministry is taking steps to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, commonly known as Act 588, to address “unethical journalism”. Fahmi Fadzil, the head of the ministry, emphasised at a press conference in parliament that the amendments aim to refine the current regulatory framework, particularly in terms of security and reliability, without curtailing freedom of speech.
The ministry’s decision to amend Act 588 was prompted by the recent inaccurate reporting on Awesome TV, a local television channel. According to Malaysiakini, Awesome TV’s news segment, Berita 757, manipulated reports about the potential layoff of civil servants in Malaysia, reducing the number from 1.6 million to 800,000.
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The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) subsequently launched an investigation against the channel for violating the terms of its license.
In his address to the Dewan Rakyat, Fahmi stressed that news reporting must be balanced to avoid defamation. He acknowledged the importance of confidentiality in journalism but emphasized the need for a balance. He also suggested that media practitioners and authorities should hold discussions to find common ground on the matter.
This is not the first time that Fahmi has emphasised the importance of accurate reporting. In December last year, netizens shared a fake Twitter screenshot on Facebook, leading to accusations that the minister opposed free speech. Fahmi refuted the accusations, stating that the move was an “evil slander” and urged netizens to verify facts before sharing them. Earlier this month, he reiterated his position on free speech at a media conference, emphasising that it must comply with existing laws.
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To ensure a balance between free speech and legal boundaries, Fahmi highlighted the ministry’s commitment to closely collaborate with the MCMC and social media platform operators to discuss concerns over misinformation, extremist content, and regulatory frameworks. According to The Star, he stated that free speech should not be used for baseless accusations or defamation.
The proposed amendments to Act 588 demonstrate Malaysia’s efforts to address unethical journalism while safeguarding freedom of speech. The importance of balanced and accurate reporting cannot be overstated, and media practitioners and authorities must work together to achieve it.