How can our deputy minister of communications be spreading fake news?


How can our deputy minister of communications be spreading fake news?
By Zan Azlee

What is defamation? Defamation is a term for when one individual tries to ruin the reputation of another by making false statements. This can be broken down into two categories – libel, which is doing so by the printed word, and slander, which is by uttering words.

In Malaysia, this can be both a civil and criminal offence under the Defamation Act 1957. Anyone can come under the purview of this act. Individuals can be found guilty and so can news organisations. It’s good because it ensures that people don’t lie for their own personal gain.

Just saying.

Yesterday, deputy communications and multimedia minister Zahidi Zainul Abidin (above) accused Veveonah Mosibin, a Universiti Malaysia Sabah student, of lying about having to climb a tree in order to take an online exam. He did so in the Dewan Negara (Senate).

If you remember, Veveonah Mosibin posted a video on her YouTube channel where she built a treehouse in her village because the Internet access where she lives is almost non-existent. She was forced to do so because it was during the movement control order (MCO) and her university was doing online exams.

The video went viral. Good things came out of it. Aside from Veveonah becoming famous, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) announced they would build a telecommunications tower near her village and UMS offered her a scholarship.

Everything seemed to have turned out great. Until yesterday when the deputy minister said what he said in the Dewan Negara. Basically, he called Veveonah a liar, that there was no exam and that she made the video for the sole purpose of garnering views for her YouTube channel.

Zahidi also specifically mentioned that he and his team had already checked and confirmed that she was not sitting for an exam. He said that it was an act and that we shouldn’t be deceived to easily by YouTubers who want to make things an issue.

This didn’t go down well with the public. Several UMS students came out on social media confirming that there were exams. Other people said that Zahidi was being a bully and should not be picking a fight with an 18-year-old student.

Veveonah also made a statement denying that her video was just an act. She said she was not lying and that she even has proof in the form of her exam schedule, of which even UMS had verified and confirmed.

Zahidi has since apologised and admitted that he had made a mistake. He said that he will even correct himself in the Dewan Negara. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that there are so many problems with his statement.

First of all, he said that his team had checked and confirmed that Veveonah had no exams. This brings into question the methods of verification his team did to come to this conclusion.

Is there a proper verification process? Or are they just pulling words out of their pockets? This is information that is going to be recorded, documented, made public and maybe even into policy. It must be taken very seriously. The deputy minister and his team need to realise that this is not a play-play thing.

Secondly, what is the motive for Zahidi to raise this issue? Nothing but positive action has happened. The improving of telecommunications infrastructure, the rethinking of online learning and a scholarship was given. Were all these not problems being solved? Why so bitter that you have to bring this issue up?

Well, bitter you may be, but it has come back to bite you. In a world where social media has democratised the public, you will be called out. And that was exactly what happened, thank god, proving the importance of social media.

Zahidi, as the deputy minister in charge of information (which also has the enforcement of misinformation and fake news under its jurisdiction!), needs to do more to appease the people. A simple apology just isn’t enough.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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