Malaysia outlaws ‘fake news’; sets jail of up to six years

Commuters walk past an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news at a train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 28, 2018. Picture taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia on Monday approved a law against “fake news” that would allow for prison of up to six years for offenders, shrugging off critics who say it was aimed at curbing dissent and free speech ahead of a general election.

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government secured a simple majority in parliament to pass the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, which sets out fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($123,000) and a maximum six years in jail. The first draft of the bill had proposed jail of up to 10 years.

The government said the law would not impinge on freedom of speech and cases under it would be handled through an independent court process.

“This law aims to protect the public from the spread of fake news, while allowing freedom of speech as provided for under the constitution,” Law Minister Azalina Othman Said told parliament.

The law defines fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and includes features, visuals and audio recordings.

It covers digital publications and social media and will apply to offenders who maliciously spread “fake news” inside and outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.

Co-opted by U.S. President Donald Trump, the term “fake news” has quickly become part of the standard repertoire of leaders in authoritarian countries to describe media reports and organizations critical of them.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, had earlier on Monday urged the government not to rush the legislation through parliament.

“I urge the government to reconsider the bill and open it up to regular and genuine public scrutiny before taking any further steps,” David Kaye said in a Twitter post.

OTHERS CONSIDER LAWS

Other countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and the Philippines, are considering how to tackle “fake news” but human rights activists fear that laws against it could be used to stifle free speech.

Malaysia is among the first few countries to introduce a law against it. Germany approved a plan last year to fine social media networks if they fail to remove hateful postings.

Malaysia already has an arsenal of laws, including a colonial-era Sedition Act, that have been used to clamp down on unfavorable news and social media posts.

News reports and social media posts on a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) have hounded Prime Minister Najib, who faces arguably his toughest contest in a general election this year that could be called in days.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing in connection with losses at the fund.

A deputy minister was quoted in media last month as saying any news on 1MDB not verified by the government was “fake”.

Lim Kit Siang, a senior opposition lawmaker with the Democratic Action Party, described the bill as a “Save Najib from 1MDB Scandal Bill” which would criminalize news on the affair.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea cancels joint performance with South Korea, blames South media

North and South Korea women's ice hockey athletes stand in a line at a dining hall at the Jincheon National Training Centre in Jincheon, South Korea January 25, 2018

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has canceled a joint cultural performance with South Korea scheduled for Feb. 4 blaming South Korean media for encouraging “insulting” public sentiment regarding the North, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Monday.

The North said it had no choice but to call off the performance, which was to be held in the North Korean territory of Mount Kumgang, as South Korean media continued to insult what Pyongyang called “sincere” measures regarding the Winter Olympics Seoul will host next month, the ministry said.

Early in January, North and South Korea launched rare talks to bring North Koreans to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics after the North’s leader Kim Jong Un said he was willing to open up discussions with Seoul.

The two Koreas had been in discussions regarding final details over the joint performance. They were also talking about a different concert in South Korea by a North Korean orchestra and sending South Korean athletes to train at a North Korean ski resort.

The North added that the agreement on the Mount Kumgang joint performance had come despite conflict with its internal celebrations, the unification ministry said. North Korea has at least two major holidays coming up next month – Kim Jong Il’s birthday and a military founding anniversary.

Seoul said North Korea’s decision to cancel the joint performance was “very regrettable” and stressed Pyongyang should uphold all agreements made between North and South Korea.

President Moon Jae-in’s administration has faced criticism for its response to North Korea’s participation in the Games, especially after it decided to form a combined women’s ice hockey team with athletes from the two Koreas for the Winter Olympics.

Many South Koreans have complained the unified women’s hockey team – the only such joint team to be formed – was unfair to the South Korean players, going so far as creating over a hundred petitions against the unified team on the presidential Blue House’s website.

The controversy has sent South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s overall approval rating below 60 percent for the first time since he took office in May last year, according to a survey released last week by South Korean pollster Realmeter, dropping more than 6 percentage points since the previous week.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Trump suggests challenging TV network licenses over ‘fake news’

The NBC logo is picture atop their office building in San Diego, California September 1, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake - GF10000189520

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump suggested challenging licenses for NBC and other broadcast news networks following reports by NBC News that his secretary of state had called him a “moron” after a discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” Trump, a Republican, wrote in a post on Twitter on Wednesday.

Trump and his supporters have repeatedly used the term “fake news” to cast doubt on media reports critical of his administration, often without providing any evidence to support their case that the reports were untrue.

Trump kept up his criticism of the media in an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying: “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”

In a tweet late on Wednesday, Trump said: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

Any move to challenge media companies’ licenses, however, would likely face significant hurdles.

The Federal Communications Commission, an independent federal agency, does not license broadcast networks, but issues them to individual broadcast stations that are renewed on a staggered basis for eight-year periods.

Comcast Corp, which owns NBC Universal, also owns 11 broadcast stations, including outlets in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas and Chicago.

A Comcast spokeswoman referred questions to NBC, which did not immediately respond.

ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co, declined to comment.

Shares in media companies fell, potentially reflecting concerns the war of words could worsen. Comcast was down 0.8 percent, while Disney shed 1.4 percent. CBS Corp fell 1.2 percent and Twenty-First Century Fox slid 2.8 percent.

Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner called the market response a “short-term irrational knee-jerk reaction” and said Trump faced essentially insurmountable hurdles to getting licenses pulled.

A spokesman for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai did not immediately comment.

Gordon Smith, the chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters, defended the media’s free speech rights.

“It is contrary to this fundamental right for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist,” Smith said in a statement.

ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co, declined to comment.

Numerous Democrats criticized Trump and urged Pai to denounce Trump’s comments.

Senator Ed Markey wrote Pai on Wednesday asking him to “withstand any urges from President Trump to harm the news media and infringe upon the First Amendment,” a reference to the U.S. Constitution’s free speech and press freedom guarantee.

Democratic U.S. Representative Frank Pallone said Trump “seemed to threaten broadcasters’ licenses only because he disagreed with their reporting. This threat alone could intimidate the press and lead to skewed and unfair reporting.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel responded to Trump by tweeting a link to an FCC fact sheet. “Not how it works,” she said on Twitter.

‘FAIRNESS DOCTRINE’

When reviewing licenses the FCC must determine if a renewal is in the public interest, according to an agency fact sheet on its website.

The FCC said in the fact sheet it expects “station licensees to be aware of the important problems and issues facing their local communities and to foster public understanding by presenting programming that relates to those local issues.”

The agency does not issue similar licenses for cable networks such as CNN and MSNBC, or regulate internet news or other websites.

The FCC has said the First Amendment “expressly prohibits the commission from censoring broadcast matter” and that its role “in overseeing program content is very limited.”

In the early 1970s, then-President Richard Nixon and his top aides discussed using the FCC’s license renewal process as a way of punishing the Washington Post for its coverage of the Watergate burglary that ultimately brought down his presidency.

NBC News has reported on tensions between Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and has said Trump sought a dramatic increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a meeting with national security advisers in July. NBC reported Tillerson made his “moron” comment after that meeting.

Trump on Saturday also suggested he should get “equal time” because of what he described as late-night television hosts’ “anti-Trump” material.

The FCC’s equal time rules apply in limited cases to air time for political candidates and not to criticism of elected leaders.

Trump may have been referring to the “Fairness Doctrine” that was designed to ensure broadcasters present opposing viewpoints about public issues. Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration eliminated it in 1987.

(Writing by Makini Brice and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Jessical Toonkel in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry, Paul Simao, Grant McCool)

Turkey targets opposition newspaper over suspected coup links

A man looks at newspapers at a kiosk in Diyarbakir, Turkey November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

By Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for the owner and three employees of an opposition newspaper, a police source and the paper said on Friday, part of a continuing media crackdown that has alarmed rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies.

The four are accused of committing crimes on behalf of the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, they said. Gulen is blamed by Ankara for masterminding last July’s failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan, a charge he denies.

Turkish police carried out searches at the homes of the owner and the three employees of Sozcu newspaper, which is fiercely critical of Erdogan and his ruling AK Party, and also detained the paper’s internet editor, the police source said.

The paper’s owner is currently abroad, he added.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the charges against the four suspects included planning “the assassination of the President and physical assault” and “armed rebellion against the government of the Turkish Republic”.

Metin Yilmaz, editor-in-chief of the secularist, nationalist Sozcu, confirmed the police raids but denied the accusations, saying his paper had long criticized Gulen and his supporters.

“The only thing we do is journalism. But doing that in this country is a crime in itself,” he said in a statement published on the paper’s web site. “Writing the truth, criticizing and doing stories are all crimes.”

The investigation drew sharp criticism from Turkey’s main opposition party CHP. Its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said the probe was “unacceptable”, while senior CHP lawmaker Ozgur Ozel said it aimed to silence all dissent.

JAILING JOURNALISTS

Since the failed coup, Turkish authorities have shut more than 130 media outlets and a press union says more than 150 journalists have been jailed, raising concerns about media freedom in a country that aspires to join the European Union.

The arrest warrants for Sozcu came days after a court jailed the online editor of another opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, pending trial, on a charge of spreading terrorist propaganda.

Around a dozen journalists from the paper, long a pillar of Turkey’s old secularist establishment, are already in jail facing sentences of up to 43 years in prison, accused of supporting Gulen’s network.

Turkey has also suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants and has arrested nearly 50,000 others suspected of links to the Gulen movement.

Turkish officials say the crackdown is necessary because the Gulen movement had set up a “state within a state” that threatened national security. They point to the gravity of last July’s coup, when rogue troops commandeered warplanes to bomb parliament and used tanks to kill 240 people.

But Erdogan’s critics in Turkey and abroad say he is using the coup to purge opponents and muzzle dissent. Last month he narrowly won a referendum that grants him sweeping new powers.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Russian parliament backs investigation into U.S. media

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has approved a proposal to launch an investigation into U.S. media organizations that operate in Russia, it said in a statement posted on its web site late on Friday.

The investigation, which will be conducted by the Duma’s information policy, technologies and communications committee, will check whether CNN, the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and “other American media” are complying with Russian law.

The statement said the Duma backed the move on Friday evening after Konstantin Zatulin, an MP from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, proposed an investigation to retaliate for what he called a “repressive” U.S. move against Russian state-funded broadcaster RT.

He said he was referring to an initiative by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has introduced a bill to empower the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT.

Shaheen, a Democrat, cited a U.S. intelligence agency assessment that suggested RT was part of a Russian influence campaign to help Donald Trump win the White House last year. The Kremlin and RT have strongly rejected that allegation.

Foreign media in Russia are overseen by the Russian Foreign Ministry, whose spokeswoman Maria Zakharova this week singled out Shaheen’s demarche for criticism, quipping ironically that the senator should have included a clause drawing up a list of books for burning.

The U.S. move also solicited the ire of Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, who on Wednesday told the daily Izvestia it had echoes of the activities of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who oversaw a campaign to expose people he regarded as communists in the 1950s.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Julia Glover)

Trump to name Republican media firm owner to run communications: reports

President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is poised to tap a Republican media relations firm owner to oversee his White House communications, according to media reports on Friday.

Crossroads Media founder Mike Dubke is expected to be named White House communications director, CNN, NBC and Fox News reported, a move that could help spokesman Sean Spicer, who has handled both duties since Trump took office last month.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports, and Crossroads Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CNN, citing two administration officials, said the announcement could come as soon as Friday, adding that Dubke did not respond to a request for comment.

The appointment would help round out Trump’s communications team, which also includes Hope Hicks, director of strategic communications, and Dan Scavino, director of social media.

Trump’s previous choice to serve as director of communications, Jason Miller, declined the job in December.

Dubke’s appointment could help shore up Trump’s messaging efforts.

Spicer and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway gave differing accounts on Monday before Michael Flynn resigned from his post as national security adviser amid controversy over his contacts with Russia. Conway told a television network that Flynn had Trump’s full confidence, while Spicer soon after told reporters that Trump was evaluating Flynn.

Conway also publicly endorsed Ivanka Trump products in a recent television interview, prompting a call by the Office of Government Ethics for disciplinary action for appearing to violate government ethics rules.

A graduate of Hamilton College in New York, Dubke helped launch another communications firm in Virginia, the Black Rock Group, according to Crossroads’ website.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Good food is worth waiting for – China media welcomes Trump letter

Donald Trump

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese state media on Friday broadly welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping belatedly wishing a happy Lunar New Year, saying it was a positive sign and that “good food is worth waiting for”.

In a brief statement, the White House said that Trump told Xi he looked forward to working with him to develop relations, though the pair haven’t spoken directly since Trump took office last month.

“The letter conveys the reassuring message that bilateral relations are still on the right track despite the speculation that has arisen with Trump’s victory in the November election,” the official China Daily said in an editorial.

Trump upset China in December by taking a phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. China considers Taiwan a wayward province with no right to formal diplomatic relations with any other country.

In his Senate confirmation hearing, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China should not be allowed access to islands it has built in the disputed South China Sea. The White House also vowed to defend “international territories” in the strategic waterway.

“Against this backdrop, the letter, though terse and issued nearly three weeks after Trump’s inauguration, is still a positive signal, as it suggests that reason still prevails in the White House,” the China Daily added.

Even the normally hawkish tabloid the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily and which had railed against Trump, struck an upbeat tone.

“Over the past few weeks, more positive signs have emerged between China and the U.S., making people re-evaluate the trajectory of the bilateral relationship under Trump,” it said in an editorial.

Chinese officials have downplayed the significance of Trump breaking with recent precedent and not sending greetings for the Lunar New Year, which began late last month, though state media was pleased his daughter Ivanka Trump went to a Lunar New Year reception at the Chinese embassy in Washington.

Diplomatic sources say China has also not been in a rush to have a telephone call with the unpredictable Trump, in case the call went badly, embarrassing Xi.

In a front page commentary, the overseas edition of the People’s Daily said the letter was an opening to help manage friction.

“There’s a saying in China – good food is worth waiting for.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

Trump: militant attacks ‘all over Europe,’ some not reported

Donald Trump speaking

By Steve Holland

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday accused the news media of ignoring attacks by Islamist militants in Europe.

Trump, who has made defeating Islamic State a core goal of his presidency, did not specify which attacks were going unreported, which news media organizations were ignoring them, or offer any details to support his claims.

“All over Europe, it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” he told a group of about 300 U.S. troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

“And, in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that,” he added, without saying what those reasons were.

The White House later released a list of 78 attacks around the world from September 2014 to December 2016.

“Networks are not devoting to each of them the same level of coverage they once did,” a White House official said. “This cannot be allowed to become the ‘new normal.'”It was Trump’s latest salvo against the news media, a favorite target for derision that he says broadly underestimated his chances during the presidential campaign. He has kept up the attacks since his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Trump at one point cited attacks in the French cities of Paris and Nice, which were widely covered. More than 230 people have died in France alone in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to Islamic State.

Al Tompkins at The Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school, dismissed Trump’s criticism.

“To suggest that journalists have some reason not to report ISIS attacks is just outlandish,” Tompkins said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Kremlin says it wants apology from Fox News over Putin comments

Putin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Monday it wanted an apology from Fox News over what it said were “unacceptable” comments one of the channel’s presenters made about Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly described Putin as “a killer” in the interview with Trump as he tried to press the U.S. president to explain more fully why he respected his Russian counterpart. O’Reilly did not say who he thought Putin had killed.

“We consider such words from the Fox TV company to be unacceptable and insulting, and honestly speaking, we would prefer to get an apology from such a respected TV company,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Fox News and O’Reilly did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Trump’s views on Putin are closely scrutinized in the United States where U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of having sponsored computer hacking to help Trump win office, and critics say he is too complimentary about the Russian leader.

Trump, when commenting on the allegations against Putin in the same interview, questioned how “innocent” the United States itself was, saying it had made a lot of its own mistakes. That irritated some Congressional Republicans who said there was no comparison between how Russian and U.S. politicians behaved.

Putin, in his 17th year of dominating the Russian political landscape, is accused by some Kremlin critics of ordering the killing of opponents. Putin and the Kremlin have repeatedly rejected those allegations as politically-motivated and false.

Trump, who has said he wants to try to mend battered U.S.-Russia ties and hopes he can get along with Putin, was asked a question about some of those allegations by Fox Business before he won the White House.

In January last year, after a British judge ruled that Putin had “probably” authorized the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, Trump said he saw no evidence the Russian president was guilty.

“First of all, he says he didn’t do it. Many people say it wasn’t him. So who knows who did it?” Trump said.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Ralph Boulton)