NB: This article is updated as of the date of publication stated above. As this situation is novel and the government’s response to the outbreak is continuously developing, this article may not necessarily include updates or developments after this date. In situations of doubt, you are advised to check for updates directly with the government authorities.

Since the Movement Control Order (“Order”) took effect on 18 March 2020 as a preventive measure to control the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, social media and text messaging platforms have seen increased postings, images and articles relating to the Order. This includes information about enforcement operations or the COVID-19 virus itself, such as alleged cures or other ways to prevent getting infected.

While technology makes it easy for us to share these “news”, Malaysians should be mindful about clicking “share” or “send” as the spreading or sharing of unverified/false news is an offence under Malaysian law.

Specifically, under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, anyone who uses network facilities or network services to transmit any communication which is false in character with, commits an offence. Upon conviction, the individual can be fined up to RM 50,000.00 or be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 1 year, or both.

The “intention to annoy” can be inferred based on the nature of the communication which was transmitted, and it is normally sufficient if the communication in question has the tendency to cause annoyance or abuse to any person. As such, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is quite general and could be used in application to false news about the COVID-19 outbreak or the Order.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) have also recently issued a statement to say that they are, with the cooperation of the police, currently investigating cases of individuals alleged to have spread fake news about COVID-19. The MCMC and police are collaborating through a Cyber Crime Committee to address the spread of fake news about COVID-19.

Apart from the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Section 124I of the Penal Code also provides that anyone who spreads false reports or make false statements likely to cause public alarm shall be, upon conviction, punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years.

Notably, the National Security Council had also warned on 24 March 2020 that:

Tindakan tegas akan diambil oleh MCMC dan PDRM untuk mengekang berita palsu mengenai wabak COVID-19. Jangan menyebarkan berita yang belum ditentusahkan.

(Unofficial translation: Stern action will be taken by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the Royal Malaysian Police to curb false news about the COVID-19 outbreak. Do not spread unverified news.)

Always check and verify any news before sharing the same with others. One such way is through the https://sebenarnya.my/, a website created by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

A good rule of thumb: If in doubt, don’t share.

***

This article was written by Donovan Cheah and Yan Nie Th’ng. Donovan has been named as a recommended lawyer for labour and employment by the Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, and he has also been recognised by Chambers Asia Pacific and Asialaw Profiles for his employment law and industrial relations work.

Donovan & Ho is a law firm in Malaysia. Our practice areas include employment law, dispute resolution, tax advisory and corporate advisory.  Have a question? Please contact us.

 

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