Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's government tabled a bill in parliament on Monday outlawing "fake news", with hefty fines and up to 10 years in jail, raising more concern about media freedom in the wake of a multi-billion dollar graft scandal.
The bill was tabled ahead of a general election that is expected to be called within weeks and as Najib faces widespread criticism over the scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Under the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, anyone who publishes so-called fake news could face fines of up to 500,000 ringgits (USD 128,140), up to 10 years in jail, or both.
"The proposed Act seeks to safeguard the public against the proliferation of fake news whilst ensuring the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Federal Constitution is respected," the government said in the bill.
The government defined fake news as "news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false" and included features, visuals and audio recordings.
The law, which covers digital publications and social media, would apply to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.
The government said in the bill it was hoped the public would be more responsible and cautious in sharing news and information.
Opposition lawmakers have questioned the need for such a law, arguing that the government already had broad powers over free speech and the media.
"This is an attack on the press and an attempt to instil fear among the rakyat (people) before GE14," opposition lawmaker Ong Kian Ming said on Twitter after the bill was tabled, using a Malaysian term for this year's election.
Parliament, where the government has a comfortable majority, is expected to vote on the bill this week.
US President Donald Trump popularized the term "fake news", which he used to describe media reports and organizations critical of him.
The term quickly became part of the standard repertoire of leaders in authoritarian countries such as Venezuela and Myanmar.
Governments elsewhere in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and the Philippines, have also proposed laws aimed at clamping down on the spread of "fake news", to the dismay of media rights advocates.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)