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Malaysia’s Anti-Fake News Act 2018 was widely criticized when it was enacted in April 2018. Commentators and rights groups considered that the Act was vague and contained an overly broad definition of fake news, and the then-government was accused of seeking to stifle criticism of the administration. Following elections in May 2018, the new government sought to repeal the Act, but the bill was defeated in the upper house of the Parliament in September 2018. It is unclear at this stage whether the government will again seek its repeal or introduce amendments. The government also undertook to review and possibly repeal several other laws that are considered oppressive and restrictive of free speech, including those that have been used to target what could be termed “fake news.” However, despite earlier announcing an enforcement moratorium, it has recently indicated a willingness to apply some of these laws in certain situations.

 A government agency operates a fact-checking portal and app, where people can search for and submit information being circulated online in order to check its accuracy. Agencies also use social media to correct false information related to government activities. In addition, legal information is available through government web portals, including statute law, regulations, bills and other parliamentary information, and court decisions.   

I. Fake News and Freedom of Speech in Malaysia

Malaysia has consistently received a low rating in global indices related to freedom of speech, including the World Press Freedom Index, in which it was ranked 145 out of 180 countries in 2018,[1] and the Freedom House Freedom of the Press report, in which it was given a “not free” rating in 2017.[2] Freedom House also noted a decline in internet freedom in the country in 2018, primarily as a result of the passage and subsequent initial enforcement of the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.[3]

The Anti-Fake News Act 2018 was passed by the Malaysian Parliament in April 2018,[4] a few weeks before national elections were to be held. The legislation was the subject of widespread criticism by human rights organizations and there were accusations that it was passed to curtail speech that was critical of the government, including reporting on corruption investigations that implicated the then-Prime Minister.[5]

The current coalition government, which was formed following the elections held in May 2018 and represents the first change in government in nearly sixty years,[6] has undertaken to enhance human rights protections in Malaysia, including through the possible repeal or amendment of certain laws, including the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Sedition Act 1948, Peaceful Assembly Act 2012,  Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, and mandatory death sentence provisions.[7] As a result, commentators expressed hope for a “new dawn” for freedom of the press in the country.[8]

The new Prime Minister also initially promised to review and amend the Anti-Fake News Act 2018,[9] but the government later introduced a bill for its full repeal.[10] Explanatory information accompanying the bill states that its seeks to repeal the Act

due to the change in the policy of the Government that fake news may be dealt with under existing laws such as the Penal Code [Act 574], the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 [Act 301] and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 [Act 588]. As such, Act 803 is no longer relevant.[11]  

The lower house of the Parliament voted in favor of a repeal bill in August 2018. However, the upper house, which is still controlled by supporters of the previous government, voted against the bill in September 2018.[12] Under the Malaysian Constitution, the lower house can pass the bill again after a one-year period has elapsed and, should the upper house again fail to pass it, the bill can subsequently be presented for assent.[13] It is unclear at this stage whether the government will propose amendments to the legislation or again seek its full repeal.

In October 2018, the government instituted a moratorium on the enforcement of provisions in certain laws that affect freedom of speech and other human rights, including the Sedition Act 1948, section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (see below), and other laws that were subject to review.[14] However, it has subsequently indicated that it could use these laws in response to emergency situations that threaten national security, public order, or race relations, such as riots that took place in November 2018 at a temple in Subang Jaya following the spread of information on social media regarding its possible relocation.[15] In addition, the government recently announced that it had decided to retain two laws that had been under review, the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012,[16] and has proposed a new law to protect the monarchy from insult and criticism.[17]

Given this context, the problem of “fake news” in Malaysia can be difficult to define and assess. On the one hand, the country’s leaders have been accused of using similar terms and various laws to stifle dissent or criticism of the government.[18] On the other, as in countries around the world, there does exist a potential threat to democracy and society from various actors, including those in other countries, creating fake news and disseminating this anonymously using social media. One commentator on the Malaysian situation recently noted that,

[m]ore often than not, everyday fake news cases are relatively harmless. This points to an important fact to appreciate. The spectrum of harm caused by fake news is extremely broad, and legitimate questions abound on whether these cases need to be dealt with via the law.

Regardless, this makes the case for delicate legislating — legislators need to be deliberate in approaching any regulation on fake news. Regulating fake news inevitably raises questions of censorship and potential infringement of the fundamental freedom of speech. Contextually, no freedom is limitless but the onus is on legislators to restrict freedoms only to the extent absolutely necessary to achieve the goal.[19]

As with others who raised concerns about the legislation, he opined that the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 does not meet such a test as it is overly vague, contains a “problematically broad” definition of fake news, and imposes “disproportionately high” punishments on creators, disseminators, and publishers of such information.[20]

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II. National Approach to Fake News

A. Anti-Fake News Act 2018

The Anti-Fake News Act 2018 defines “fake news” as including “any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.”[21] The main offense provision in the Act states as follows:

Any person who, by any means, maliciously creates, offers, publishes, prints, distributes, circulates or disseminates any fake news or publication containing fake news commits an offence and shall, on conviction, by liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand ringgit [approx. US$122,702] or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years or to both, and in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding three thousand ringgit [approx. US$736] for every day during which the offence continues after conviction.[22]

A court may also order that a person convicted under this provision issue an apology.[23] Providing financial assistance for the purpose of committing the above offense is punishable by the same penalties included in the above provision,[24] while failure to immediately remove any publication containing fake news “after knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that such publication contains fake news” is punishable by a fine of up to one hundred thousand ringgit (approx. US$24,540).[25]

The Act establishes a process for affected persons to seek a court order for the removal of a publication containing fake news.[26] If the person who is the subject of such an order fails to remove the content, a police officer or other authorized officer may take “necessary measures” to remove the publication.[27]

The Act provides for its extraterritorial application, stating that where an offense is committed by any person, whether a Malaysian citizen or not, outside of Malaysia, and where the fake news concerns Malaysia or affects a Malaysian citizen, it may be dealt with as if it was committed within Malaysia.[28]

B. Other Legislation

Provisions under several other pieces of legislation may also be utilized to target those accused of publishing or disseminating fake news. The below are among the laws that the new government stated it would review. However, as noted above, the government has recently faced criticism for failing to abolish certain laws and for apparently lifting an enforcement moratorium.

1. Communications and Multimedia Act 1998

Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 states:

(1) A person who—

(a) by means of any network facilities or network service or applications service knowingly—

(i) makes, creates or solicits; and

(ii) initiates the transmission of,             

any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person; or

(b) initiates a communication using any applications service, whether continuously, repeatedly or otherwise, during which communication may or may not ensue, with or without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person at any number or electronic address,

commits an offence.[29]

The penalty for an offense under this provision is a fine of up to fifty thousand ringgit (approx. US$12,270) or imprisonment for up to one year, or both, with a further fine of one thousand ringgit (approx. US$245) applying for every day that the offense is continued after conviction.[30]

2. Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984

The Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 requires the licensing of persons who use a printing press and prohibits the use of printing presses for unlawful purposes, including producing any publication or document “which contains an incitement to violence against persons or property, counsels disobedience to the law or to any lawful order or which is or is likely to lead to a breach of the peace or to promote feelings of ill-will, hostility, enmity, hatred, disharmony or disunity.”[31] The relevant government minister also has the “absolute discretion” to prohibit the printing, importation, sale, distribution, or possession of a publication that contains anything that is, or is likely to be, prejudicial to “public order, morality, security, or which is likely to alarm public opinion, or which is or is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest.”[32] Furthermore, section 8A of the Act provides:

Where in any publication there is maliciously published any false news, the printer, publisher, editor and the writer thereof shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand ringgit [approx. US$4,908] or to both.[33] 

3. Sedition Act 1948 

The Sedition Act 1948 criminalizes, among other acts, the printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distribution, or reproduction of any “seditious publication.”[34] Such publications are those with a “seditious tendency,” which includes, for example, having a tendency “to bring hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler” or “to promote feelings of ill will, hostility or hatred between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia.”[35] 

The penalty under this provision, which was increased by amendments to the Act in 2015, is imprisonment of between three and seven years.[36] 

Other changes to the Act in 2015 enabled the government, through the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), to “block electronic media that is deemed to be seditious.”[37] The Act now allows the public prosecutor to seek an order from a Sessions Court prohibiting the making or circulation of a seditious publication that is found to be likely to lead to bodily injury or damage to property; or that appears to promote feelings of ill will, hostility or hatred between different races or classes of people in Malaysia, or between persons or groups on the grounds of religion.[38] Where such a publication is by electronic means, the order can  

(i) require the person making or circulating the prohibited publication to remove or cause to be removed wholly or partly the prohibited publication; and
(ii) prohibit the person making or circulating the publication from accessing any electronic device.[39] 

In addition, a new provision allows a court to make an order “directing an officer authorized under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 [Act 588] to prevent access to such publication” where the person making or circulating it by electronic means cannot be identified.[40]

4. Penal Code

The Penal Code contains the following offense of defamation:

Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs, or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation and shall also be liable to fine of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.[41]

The Code penalizes defamation with imprisonment for up to two years.[42]

Further provisions criminalize “intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace,” which is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years,[43] and the publication or circulation of any statement, rumor, or report

(b) with intent to cause, or which his likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public where by any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity; or
(c)   with intent to incite or which is likely to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community of persons[.][44]

This offense is also punishable by imprisonment for up to two years.

C. Portal and App

In March 2017, the MCMC launched the “” portal to enable the public to “check on the authenticity of news spread through social websites.”[45] In March 2018, the MCMC made the portal available as a smartphone app.[46] According to the MCMC, the portal has over one hundred strategic partners comprising twenty-two government ministries and almost one hundred agencies “that cover numerous sectors and fields.”[47]

The portal remains active and publishes various fact-checking articles and statements in response to information being circulated online.[48] In November 2018, for example, in light of the temple riots referred to above, the MCMC urged people not to share or spread information that has not been proven to be true and reminded the public to “check and report on widely-shared fake news” using the portal.[49]

D. Education and Enforcement

The MCMC reported that in 2017 it held 561 fake news awareness programs through eighteen strategic partners and conducted awareness campaigns through public service announcements broadcast on television and radio.[50] It also “took action against 3,721 fake accounts in various social media platforms in which 80% of the perpetrators’ accounts were deleted for violating their terms and conditions.”[51] At that time, criminal enforcement activities were based on section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, with forty investigating papers related to fake news being opened in 2017 and four cases brought before the court.[52] A spokesman for the MCMC stated that it had “the capacity to prosecute individuals who spread false news within 24 hours after an offence is committed via social media.”[53]

In April 2018, the MCMC reported that more than 50% of the instances of fake news that had been verified using the portal were being investigated.[54] By then, ten individuals had “been convicted after a lengthy court process” of breaching section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act in relation to spreading fake news. The MCMC noted that it was often difficult to detect the original publisher of fake news “as some 30% of the cases were using fake social media accounts.”[55]

During the previous administration, there were also multiple actions taken against individuals under the Sedition Act 1948, including in relation to online speech,[56] although it is unclear to what extent these involved what might otherwise be considered “fake news.” In 2018, the current government dropped some Sedition Act prosecutions that had been brought by the previous government, and rights groups called for the remaining cases to also be withdrawn.[57] However, in January 2019, Malaysian police arrested three people for Sedition Act offenses after they posted comments on social media deemed insulting to Sultan Muhammad V.[58]

The current Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, was one of the first people investigated under the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, with authorities stating that the investigation related to false claims that his plane was sabotaged ahead of the election.[59] The first person convicted under the Act, in April 2018, was a Danish citizen who published a video on YouTube that made false claims about the length of time it took police in Kuala Lumpur to respond to a shooting incident. He was fined ten thousand ringgit (approx. US$2,454) but opted instead to spend one month in prison.[60]

More recent statistics and information regarding MCMC enforcement actions specifically related to fake news since the election of the new government have not been located. The MCMC website provides information to the public on complaint processes related to online content that refers to various laws and their respective enforcement agencies, including the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act. It does not refer to the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.[61] News reports on possible MCMC actions against individuals in relation to the November 2018 temple riots did not specify what legislation might be utilized for this purpose.[62]

In addition to the portal, it appears that government entities also use social media to inform and educate the public regarding fake news. For example, in January 2019 the Ministry of Women, Family and Community used Twitter and Facebook to inform the public that a viral message regarding a curfew on young people was fake news.[63]

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III. Government Legal Information Portals

The Malaysian government provides online access to legal information through the Laws of Malaysia portal on the website of the Attorney-General’s Chambers[64] as well as through the e-Federal Gazette portal (also maintained by the Attorney-General’s Chambers).[65] The Laws of Malaysia site contains federal statute law, while the e-Federal Gazette contains federal laws and regulations published in the official gazette, dating back to 2011.[66] In addition, published judgments of the federal courts are made available online on the website of the Office of the Chief Registrar of Federal Courts,[67] and bills, order papers, and records of parliamentary proceedings are published on the Malaysian Parliament website.[68]

The Official E-Syariah Portal provides access to information related to Islamic law in Malaysia, including state-level statutes, case status information, and court procedures.[69] State-level law portals also include those of Sabah[70] and Sarawak,[71] which have a higher degree of legislative autonomy compared to other states. Court judgments are available on the website of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak.[72]

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Prepared by Kelly Buchanan
Foreign Law Specialist
April 2019

[1] See Malaysia, Reporters Without Borders, (last visited Feb. 27, 2019), archived at

[2] Freedom of the Press 2017: Malaysia, Freedom House, malaysia (last visited Feb. 27, 2019), archived at

[3] Freedom on the Net 2018: Malaysia, Freedom House, malaysia (last visited Feb. 27, 2019), archived at

[4] See Kelly Buchanan, Malaysia: Anti-Fake News Act Comes into Force, Global Legal Monitor (Apr. 19, 2018),//

[5] See Malaysia Accused of Muzzling Critics with Jail Terms for Fake News, The Guardian (Mar. 26, 2018),, archived at; Malaysia: Anti-Fake News Act Should be Repealed in its Entirety, Article 19 (Apr. 24, 2018),, archived at; Malaysia: Drop Proposed ‘Fake News’ Law, Human Rights Watch (Mar. 29, 2018),, archived at

[6] See Malaysia Election: Opposition Scores Historic Victory, BBC News (May 10, 2018), news/world-asia-44036178, archived at

[7]  Malaysia to Review Seven ‘Unsuitable’ National Security Laws: Muhyiddin, Channel NewsAsia (May 22, 2018),, archived at

[8] Scilla Alecci, After Black Magic, Censorship and Detention Comes New Dawn for Malaysian Press, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (June 6, 2018),, archived at See also Kristian Porter, Hope for Media Freedom in Malaysia?, Public Media Alliance (Sept. 14, 2018),, archived at EJ4E-F9L4; David Boyle, Malaysian Press Await Promised Reforms, Voice of America (June 12, 2018),, archived at

[9] Malaysia Will Review Not Revoke Fake News Law, Says Mahatir, BBC News (May 14, 2018), com/news/world-asia-44104879, archived at

[11] Id. at 2.

[12] See Bill to Repeal ‘Anti-Fake News’ Act in Malaysia Fails, International Federation of Journalists (Sept. 13, 2018),, archived at; Malaysia: Senate’s Rejection of Bill Abolishing Anti-Fake News Law a Backwards Step, Article 19 (Sept. 13, 2018), resources/malaysia-senates-rejection-of-bill-abolishing-anti-fake-news-law-a-backwards-step/, archived at

[14] See Shakira Buang, Temple Riots: Cabinet Gives Approval to Enforce Sedition Act, Malaysiakini (Dec. 2, 2018),, archived at

[15] Id. See also Nadia Hamid & Mohamad Ridzuan Anwar, Moratorium on Draconian Laws Suspended on Issues Threatening National Security, Public Order, Race Relations, New Straits Times (Dec. 3, 2018),https://www.nst.; Press Release, Malaysian Bar, Don’t Break Your Promise, Pakatan Told After ‘Oppressive’ Laws Allowed For Use (Dec. 7, 2018), your_promise_pakatan_told_after_oppressive_laws_allowed_for_use.html, archived at

[16] See Press Release, Malaysian Bar, Government Must Fulfil Pledge to Abolish All Oppressive Laws (Jan. 5, 2019), pledge_to_abolish_all_oppressive_laws.html, archived at

[17] See Malaysia: Law Proposed Against Criticizing Monarchy, Human Rights Watch (Jan. 11, 2019),, archived at

[18] See Human Rights Watch, Creating a Culture of Fear: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in Malaysia (Oct. 26, 2015),, archived at

[19] Harris Zainul, No Silver Bullet for Fake News in Malaysia, The Diplomat (Jan. 12, 2019),https://thediplomat. com/2019/01/no-silver-bullet-for-fake-news-in-a-new-malaysia/, archived at

[20] Id. See also David Hutt, The Real Problem with Malaysia’s Fake News Law, The Diplomat (Apr. 2018),, archived at

[22] Id. s 4(1).

[23] Id. s 4(2).

[24] Id. s 5.

[25] Id. s 6.

[26] Id. s 7.

[27] Id. s 9.

[28] Id. s 3.

[29] Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Act 588), s 233(1), files/Publications/LOM/EN/Act%20588.pdf, archived at

[30] Id. s 233(3).

[32] Id. s 7(1).

[33] Id. s 8A(1).

[35] Id. s 3(1)(a) & (e), as amended.

[36] Id. s 4(1), as amended.

[38] Sedition Act 1948, s 10(1), as amended.

[39] Id. s 10(1A)(b), inserted by Sedition (Amendment) Act 2015.

[40] Id. s 10A, inserted by Sedition (Amendment) Act 2015.

[42] Id. s 500.

[43] Id. s 504.

[44] Id. s 505(b) & (c).

[45] SEBERARNYA.MY Portal Launched for Checking Validity of News, The Star (Mar. 14, 2017), https://www.the, archived at See also Press Release, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Portal Launched, In Battle Against False News (Mar. 14, 2017), sebenarnya-my-portal-launched,-in-a-battle-against, archived at

[46] Launches Smartphone App, The Sun Daily (Mar. 20, 2018), archive/sebenarnyamy-launches-smartphone-app-MUARCH534018, archived at

[47] Id.

[48] See Homepage,, (in Malaysian; last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[49] Angelin Yeoh, MCMC: Stop Spreading False Online News that Could Disrupt National Harmony, The Star (Nov. 27, 2018),, archived at

[50] Launches Smartphone App, supra note 46.

[51] Id.

[52] Id. See also Whatsapp, Faceboo Main Sources of Fake News for Malaysians, New Straits Times (Mar. 26, 2018),

[53] Norhafzan Jaafar et al., MCMC Can Catch Fake News Spreaders in 24 Hours, New Straits Times (Mar. 8, 2018),

[54] Over 50% of 1500 Fake News Being Investigated: MCMC, The Sun Daily (Apr. 18, 2018),https://www.thesun, archived at

[55] Id.

[56] See Press Release, Amnesty International, Malaysia: End Unprecedented Crackdown on Hundreds of Critics (Mar. 11, 2016),, archived at

[57] Malaysia: Drop Remaining Sedition Cases, Human Rights Watch (Aug. 1, 2018), 2018/08/01/malaysia-drop-remaining-sedition-cases, archived at; Malaysia: Acquittal of Zunar and Others Must Lead to Repeal of Draconian Law, Amnesty International (July 30, 2018),, archived at

[58] Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin, Human Rights Group Slams Govt Following Arrests Under Sedition Act, Malay Mail (Jan. 9, 2019),, archived at

[59] Emily Chow & Praveen Menon, Go Ahead, Charge Me Over Fake News, Says Malaysia’s Mahthir of Plane Sabotage Claim, Reuters (May 4, 2018),, archived at

[60] First Person Convicted Under Malaysia’s Fake News Law, The Guardian (Apr. 30, 2018),https://www.the, archived at

[61] FAQS: 1. What Are the Steps Required for Me to Lodge Complaints Regarding Content on the Internet?, MCMC, (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[62] See MCMC Acts Over False Info on Temple Riots (Updated), The Sun Daily (Nov. 28, 2018),https://www., archived at

[63] Putrajaya Debunks Viral Message on Curfew for Those Below 18, Channel NewsAsia (Jan. 22, 2019),, archived at

[64] Laws of Malaysia (L.O.M.), Attorney-General’s Chambers of Malaysia, agcportal/index.php?r=portal2/lom&menu_id=VXlsMDlEclhJVXlGcUd6c0JreVhEUT09 (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[65] Homepage, e-Federal Gazette, (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[66] Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), e-Federal Gazette, main_faq.php (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[67] Grounds of Judgment, Office of the Chief Registrar, Federal Court of Malaysia, http://www.kehakiman. (last updated Feb. 26, 2019), archived at

[68] Homepage, Parliament of Malaysia, (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[69] Homepage, E-Syariah Official Portal, (last updated Jan. 1, 2019), archived at

[70] Homepage, Sabah LawNet, Sabah State Attorney-General’s Chambers,http://www.lawnet.sabah. (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[71] Homepage,Sarawak LawNet, (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

[72] Homepage, High Court in Sabah & Sarawak, (last visited Feb. 28, 2019), archived at

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020