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Minister Salleh Said Keruak, great champion of freedom and democracy, is worried that disinformation and fake news is endangering the world’s greatest democracy.

In a recent blog posting, he said that the sanctity of freedom and democracy in Malaysia needed to be upheld by clamping down on the abuse of freedom of speech and fake news.

Killing democracy to save it

In other words, in order to protect freedom of speech, the government must restrict it; and to keep democracy strong, democratic freedoms must be further limited. Convoluted logic no doubt but such is what passes for freedom and democracy in Putrajaya these days.

Our de facto Law Minister in the meantime spends sleepless nights worrying that the fake news phenomena could disrupt political stability, threaten public order and national security while her colleagues are perturbed that it could incite people to “hate the government.”

Clearly, we now have yet another national crisis on our hands that requires yet more restrictive laws and the ceding of yet more power to the executive branch of government.

[That’s the problem with power, isn’t it; its never enough. History teaches us that the more power autocrats accumulate, the more vulnerable and insecure they become.]

To this end, a special anti-fake news committee has been formed comprising representatives from the police, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and the Communications and Multimedia Ministry to discuss and make recommendations concerning ways to curb fake news (all in the interest of protecting our democracy, of course).

Worried about real news 

No one, however, is fooled by this fake news ‘sandiwara.’ It is not fake news that they fear but real news about corruption and malfeasance in high places, the abuse of power and the manipulation of our national institutions for political expediency.

They are afraid of the truth, afraid that the tide is turning against them. They know that most Malaysians have abandoned the worthless official media in favour of “non-traditional” media (media not yet under government control) and want to control that too. As a senior government minister lamented recently, “we are facing a tough challenge these days as 82% of non-traditional media are against the establishment.”

Not content with proscribing yellow balloons, harassing civil society and opposition leaders, arresting those who lampoon thin-skinned politicians and persecuting whistle-blowers, they now want to intimidate the whole nation into silence and self-censorship.

What next? An Orwellian-like Ministry of Official Truths to ensure that only government-approved truth and nothing but government-approved truth is reported, spoken or written about? Will they tell us what we may or may not think too?

Expect Malaysia’s already poor press freedom ranking (144 out of 180 according to global watchdog Reporters Without Borders) to plunge even further.

Despots dressed up as democrats

Let’s face it: this is simply another Machiavellian scheme to control social media and online news portals, the last bastion of press freedom and the free flow of information in Malaysia, and deny our citizens the ultimate right to give those who serve us the finger, deserved or otherwise.

In real democracies, governments do not get to define the truth; truth is what emerges from open discussion, dissenting views and the free flow of information. Those who are concerned with fake news should try transparency and free speech instead of pretending to be democrats.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 9th February 2018