A Better Deal for Teachers–More than Appreciation


May 21, 2018

A Better Deal for Teachers–More than Appreciation

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/5/17/teachers-need-a-lot-more-than-appreciation

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John Steinbeck writes, “In the country the repository of art and science was the school, and the schoolteacher shielded and carried the torch of learning and of beauty. . . . The teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could indeed walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.”–In East of Eden

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and I intended to write on the subject, but a more newsy topic intervened. That’s an apt metaphor for the plight of teachers in America today. We live in a media environment in which the urgent often crowds out the important. But this week, I will stick to my plans.

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Novelist John Steinbeck and his companion

In “East of Eden,” a sprawling, magisterial novel about the great American West, John Steinbeck writes, “In the country the repository of art and science was the school, and the schoolteacher shielded and carried the torch of learning and of beauty. . . . The teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could indeed walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.”

The picture Steinbeck paints (set in the early 20th century) is almost unrecognizable in today’s America, where schoolteachers are so poorly paid that they are about five times as likely as the average full-time worker to have a second job, according to Vox. We have all heard about stagnant middle-class wages. But the average pay for a teacher in the United States, adjusted for inflation, has actually declined over the past 15 years, while their health-care costs have risen substantially. The Economist reports that teachers earn 60 percent of what a professional with comparable education does.

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The average salary for a teacher in many states is under $50,000. Teachers in West Virginia went on strike a few months ago to demand higher wages, and the government agreed to a 5 percent pay raise, which means the average salary will rise to only $48,000. Like many other states, West Virginia failed to restore education spending after slashing it in the wake of the financial crisis a decade ago. As of last year, per-pupil state funding (adjusted for inflation) was still down between 8 and 28 percent in five of the six states where teachers have now gone on strike, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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“…the countries that do best at public education — Singapore, Finland, South Korea — can recruit top college graduates into the teaching ranks because they pay reasonably well, they invest in professional development and their societies show deep respect for the profession.”–Fareed Zakaria

With low wages and stretched resources, American educators burn out and quit the profession at twice the rate of some of the highest-achieving countries, as Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute points out. Since 35 percent fewer Americans have studied to become teachers in recent years, she notes, there are massive teacher shortages, forcing schools nationwide to hire more than 100,000 people who lack the proper qualifications. In fact, the New York Times reports, it is so hard for public schools to find qualified Americans that many districts are starting to recruit instructors from low-wage countries such as the Philippines.

It’s not all about salaries. One veteran educator I spoke with, who began working in California in the 1960s, reminisced about that “golden age” when she had ample resources to use in the classroom, went to seminars to develop her skills and felt fulfilled. Today, teachers have little time or money for any of this. A recent survey of public school teachers found that 94 percent pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, without reimbursement, at an average of $479 a year.

It’s not even all about money. Leading a classroom was never a pathway to riches, but teachers once did command the respect and status that Steinbeck’s quote reflects. Andreas Schleicher, who heads the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s education division and has spent years doing careful international comparisons on education, has often observed that the countries that do best at public education — Singapore, Finland, South Korea — can recruit top college graduates into the teaching ranks because they pay reasonably well, they invest in professional development and their societies show deep respect for the profession. In the United States, when we encounter a member of the armed services, many of us make a point to thank them for their service. When was the last time you did the same for a public school teacher?

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Yes, education is a very complicated subject. Simply spending more money does not guarantee results — although there are studies that indicate a significant correlation between teacher pay and student achievement. Yes, the education bureaucracy is rigid and often corrupt. But all of this masks the central problem: Over the past 30 years, as part of the assault on government, bureaucrats and the public sector in general, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And yet, teaching is the one profession that makes all other professions possible.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Fellow Malaysians–Lead a Life of Integrity


May 20, 2018

Fellow Malaysians–Lead a Life of Integrity

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I admire Rex Tillerson not because he was Secretary of State in the Trump Administration. He was never given the chance by the insecure and ego-centric  Donald Trump to prove his worth as America’s top diplomat. I believe, he could have done a great job in that role, given his education and experience in the private sector.

I respect him as Chairman, Exxon-Mobil, a Fortune 500 corporation, and for being a corporate executive with integrity. In his Commencement Address to his Alma Mater’s Class of 2018, he urges graduates of VMI to lead life of integrity (both personal and professional). The  Truth shall make us free, he said.

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Listen to Rex Tillerson so that we too shall be free. Let us make ourselves Malaysians with high standards of ethical leadership, and  build our country into great nation which is admired and respected by our neighbours in ASEAN and the world.  Yes, we can.–Din Merican

 

Malaysia: After Regime Change, What’s Next?


May 19, 2018

Malaysia 2018: After Regime Change, What’s Next?

by Eric Loo

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/424766

COMMENT | “The ability of the journalist to influence the course of events is out of all proportion to his individual right as a citizen of a democratic society. He is neither especially chosen for his moral superiority nor elected to his post. A free press is as prone to corruption as are the other institutions of democracy. Is this then to be the only institution of democracy to be completely unfettered?”

 

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Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim–Together Again but for how long?

 Those are the words of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, spoken in 1985 at the World Press Convention in Kuala Lumpur.

By Mahathir’s logic, journalists, if left unregulated, would by instinct overly report on conflicts and controversies at the expense of informing the people of the government’s achievements. The media watchdog must be leashed and used as a state apparatus to build the nation.

Contrast Mahathir’s tight rein on the media with this: “I reject the notion that a free press is alien to (Malaysian) society. All the great sages of the past were great because they were able to write and publish freely. All our great freedom fighters… were able to be great because they believed in freedom and they were able to use the media to articulate their positions.”

Those are the words of Anwar Ibrahim in an interview with Time Australia (June 10, 1996), when his book Asian Renaissance was published. Anwar, who was Deputy Prime Minister then, noted in his book that the cultural and intellectual reawakening of Asians (and Malaysians) will begin to evolve only when the mind and intellect are free of internal insecurity and independent of external constraints.

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By Anwar’s logic, the media should serve as a “vehicle for the contest of ideas and cultivate good taste” to root out corruption and abuses of power in its many forms.

Western media generally frame Anwar as a liberal Islamist thinker and charismatic reformist post-1998, during which he regularly spoke at inter-civilisational forums. On the other hand, Mahathir was seen as an autocratic moderniser who brooked no opposition to his rule and who held a tight rein on the media.

Since May 2008, Mahathir’s unfettered criticisms of his predecessor Abdullah Badawi’s “flip-flopping mismanagement of the country” and Najib Abdul Razak’s fraudulent rule have exposed another side of Mahathir’s persona in the eyes of those who follow his blog, Chedet.

How ironic from a former Prime Minister who is renowned for shutting down any dissent from journalists, opposition parties and public intellectuals!

What the voters expect

Even as we continue to celebrate Pakatan Harapan’s historic win, many who have worked in the media, and those who have marched the streets with Bersih, will expect the new regime to repeal the Universities and University Colleges Act, Anti-Fake News Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Official Secrets Act and numerous sedition and security laws that have for too long suppressed open public debates on policy implementation issues and practical matters that affect the daily lives of every Malaysian family.

With the collapse of UMNO and political demise of Najib Razak and the probable prosecution of those who had plundered the country’s coffers, voters now expect the new regime to establish a non-partisan Judiciary, an independent Anti-Corruption Agency, and the re-opening of old cases.

Will Harapan be able to fulfil these campaign vows within its first term in government, led by a 92-year-old statesman heavily tasked with micro-managing a fractious coalition of parties, each with its own interests to pursue, and neutralising the likelihood of ad hoc protests from UMNO loyalists?

Even as I am truly inspired by Mahathir’s deep conviction in ‘saving the country’ from the kleptocrats, I am also fully aware of the divisive racialised political and communal systems that had developed during his 22-year leadership.

Decades of partisan politics, erosion of civil rights in the name of economic development, severe measures taken on minority dissent by Mahathir’s past detractors – these fractures will certainly taint his attempt at reshaping his legacy – from that of an autocratic Prime Minister and an enemy of the press, marked by Operasi Lalang in 1987, to that of a redeemer of a country lost to the kleptocrats and the corrupt in 2018.

The final collapse of the UMNO hegemon and the long-awaited regime change does not necessarily imply a clean break from the past.

We will still see shades of ideological, organisational and institutional continuities in the form of political patronage arising from past loyalties and kinship ties, and the jostling for appointments to powerful portfolios. Such are the realities of communal politics and the tribal interests that drive the political agendas.

Mahathir had campaigned on a theme of self-redemption to save the country with the remaining years of his life. Permanent redemption and full restoration of the country, I believe, can only happen if Mahathir, as the oldest statesman to be re-elected as Prime Minister in the world, is able to bring about transformed hearts and changed mindsets in his new cabinet.

This needs an effective ‘leadership by example’, a slogan which framed the start of Mahathir’s premiership with his deputy Musa Hitam in 1981.

Mahathir hopes to change the way he wishes to be remembered in the history books. While implicitly seeking forgiveness for his actions past and reconciling with Anwar today with a full royal pardon warms our hearts and endears us to him as our eldest statesman, ultimately voters who elevated Harapan to power will want to see real improvements happen very soon in their living conditions.

I hope the new alliance, which is entering a political environment with a new generation of ‘enlightened’ voters who got them into power, will not be akin to shuffling a deck of new cards but dealing in the same old polarised politics of race and religious intolerance of the past decades.

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I hope Mahathir’s statement that “this election is not merely about seeking victory for a political party but to redeem the pride of the (Malay) race” does not return us to the type of society that he painted in his 1971 book The Malay Dilemma.


ERIC LOO is Senior Fellow (Journalism) at the School of the Arts, English & Media, Faculty of Law Humanities & Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. He is also the founding editor of Asia Pacific Media Educator.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Senator and War Hero John McCain roils Washington


May 13, 2018

Senator John McCain roils Washington for speaking out on torture and a Trump nominee

https://www.washingtonpost.com

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been receiving treatment for brain cancer, but he revived a tense debate over torture this week by speaking out against Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA. (Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. John McCain is 2,200 miles from Washington and hasn’t been on Capitol Hill in five months, but he showed this week that he remains a potent force in national politics and a polarizing figure within the Republican Party.

From his home in Sedona, Ariz., where he is receiving treatment for an aggressive and typically fatal type of brain cancer, McCain has challenged and praised the Trump administration’s actions on national security — his voice limited to news releases and Twitter.

But his declaration Wednesday in opposition to Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for CIA director, has uniquely roiled the political scene. The denunciation has prompted reactions from fellow senators and a former Vice President, as well as intemperate remarks from some Republicans aligned with Trump, including a White House aide.

It has revived the fierce debate over torture and its effectiveness in extracting information in the years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — from a man who speaks from experience. McCain was held for 5½ years in a North Vietnamese prison, often deprived of sleep, food and medical care, after a jet he piloted was shot down over Hanoi.

And while McCain is not expected to cast a vote, his opposition to Haspel — based on her record overseeing controversial CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists — has injected uncertainty into her confirmation.

As Republicans and Democrats come to grips with a Senate without him, McCain has remained in Arizona, receiving visitors on the deck of his cabin.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of McCain’s closest friends, returned this week from an extended visit there and described his outlook: “One foot in front of the other.”

“We’re talking about the future,” Graham added. “We talk about what’s going on in the Mideast. I was pleasantly surprised [by his vigor], and I’m looking forward to going back.”

But there is little expectation on Capitol Hill that McCain, 81, will ever return to his old haunt as elder statesman, jet-setting diplomat, military expert and conscience of the Republican Party. That is the subtext of his forthcoming book, “The Restless Wave,” an elegiac volume set for release later this month in which McCain recounts and defends his efforts to expose and prevent torture, combat Russian expansionism and advance the postwar international order.

 

“Before I leave I’d like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations,” he writes. “I would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different. We are citizens of a republic made of shared ideals forged in a new world to replace the tribal enmities that tormented the old one. Even in times of political turmoil such as these, we share that awesome heritage and the responsibility to embrace it.”

McCain also questions Trump more directly in the book, acknowledging “glimmers of hope” in his foreign policy but expressing grave doubts about Trump himself.

“I’m not sure what to make of President Trump’s convictions,” he writes, adding, “The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values.”

McCain’s illness has added gravity to his opposition to Haspel, who as a senior CIA official during the post-9/11 war on terrorism oversaw “enhanced interrogations” of terrorism suspects that some — including McCain — have described as torture.

During a confirmation hearing Wednesday, Haspel pledged that she would never allow the CIA to engage in those types of interrogations under her watch. But she repeatedly declined to characterize the CIA’s previous interrogation methods as immoral, saying they were authorized under the law.

The same day, former vice president Richard B. Cheney — the leading proponent of the interrogation techniques inside the George W. Bush administration — told the Fox Business Network that the CIA’s actions did not amount to torture. He also argued, in contradiction of a Senate report on the issue, that “it worked.”

“If it was my call,” he said, “I’d do it again.”

Hours later, McCain issued a statement declaring that “the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.”

“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” he said. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

That denunciation infuriated some Republicans who have seen McCain as a motivated opponent of Trump and have moved away from the more idealistic strain of conservatism that McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, has embodied.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reported Thursday that Kelly Sadler, a White House communications official, dismissed McCain’s opposition in a staff meeting, saying, “It doesn’t matter; he’s dying, anyway.”

The White House has not disputed the report. “I’m not going to comment on an internal staff meeting,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.

Separately Thursday, retired Air Force Gen. Thomas McInerney said during an appearance on the Fox Business Network that torture “worked on John” during McCain’s years in captivity. “That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John,’ ” McInerney said.

Neither Sadler nor McInerney has publicly apologized. Independent accounts of McCain’s time in North Vietnamese captivity do not include any suggestion that he offered material information to his captors, and McCain says the same. He did, by multiple accounts, refuse offers of early release based on his status as the son of a Navy admiral.

His defense fell to his family and some of his old friends in Washington. His wife, Cindy, tweeted a rebuke at Sadler, and daughter Meghan addressed the attacks during Friday’s broadcast of “The View,” the ABC daytime talk show she co-hosts.

“I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in when that would be acceptable, and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job,” she said.

She added: “My father’s legacy is going to be talked about for hundreds and hundreds of years. These people? Nothingburgers. Nobody’s going to remember you.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden issued a sharp statement, accusing the Trump administration of hitting “rock bottom.”

“John McCain is a genuine hero — a man of valor whose sacrifices for his country are immeasurable,” he said. “As he fights for his life, he deserves better — so much better.”

It is possible, though unlikely, that McCain’s opposition to Haspel’s nomination could sink her prospects for confirmation. Most Democrats have opposed her appointment; Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) both cited McCain in announcing their opposition to Haspel on Friday.

Several senators have yet to announce their intentions, and one key vote belongs to Arizona’s junior senator, Republican Jeff Flake, who recently visited McCain in Sedona and said Thursday that McCain’s words were weighing heavily on his decision.

“I’ve always shared McCain’s views on torture and looked up to him on this,” he said.

Sean Sullivan, Seung Min Kim and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/speaking-out-on-torture-and-a-trump-nominee-ailing-mccain-roils-washington/2018/05/11/ccf2865a-5525-11e8-a551-5b648abe29ef_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dbb7520a3423&wpisrc=al_trending_now__alert-politics–alert-national&wpmk=1

President Donald Trump’s strategy for the upcoming midterm elections– Creating an immigration crisis


May 6, 2018

President Donald Trump’s strategy for the upcoming midterm elections– Creating an immigration crisis

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@https://fareedzakaria.com

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President Trump has said that the group of migrants that recently made its way from Central America to the United States symbolizes out-of-control immigration, lawlessness and violence besetting the country. “Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming,” he tweeted last month. This week, he added : “The migrant ‘caravan’ that is openly defying our border shows how weak & ineffective U.S. immigration laws are.”

The facts suggest the opposite. Last year, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection report, illegal cross-border migration was at its lowest level on record.

Trump, of course, claims that this drop is the result of his policies. Consider this boast from a State of the Union address, that the administration had put “more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history” and had cut “illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.” The problem with crediting Trump, however, is that this was the State of the Union delivered in February 2013 — and that the president making the speech was Barack Obama.

The decline in illegal immigration has been a two-decade trend. Over that time, the number of Border Patrol apprehensions along the southern border has dropped by about 80 percent, from 1.6 million in 2000 to 300,000 in 2017.

As for Mexican migration, even before Trump’s rise, more Mexicans were leaving the United States than entering. According to a Pew Research Center study, from 2009 to 2014, 1 million Mexicans and their families (including children born in the United States) went back to their home country, while 870,000 arrived here.

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As for that caravan, the more than 1,100 migrants largely from Central America fleeing poverty, gang violence and repression banded together for safety. They are a peaceful group of mostly women and children. Many will probably end up living in Mexico. A small number, about 200, are expected to apply for asylum in the United States, and past admission rates suggest that only a quarter will be accepted. That is the reality of the supposedly menacing caravan that Trump conjures up.

And yet, Trump is unrelenting in his attacks on these destitute, defenseless people. He demonizes them, describing them as threats to the United States, symbols of the lawlessness and violence that supposedly pervade the country. (In fact, violent crime has dropped by 66 percent since the early 1990s.)

Why is he doing this? The most likely answer is that he is searching for a strategy for the upcoming midterm elections, which are looking grim for Republicans, who have little to talk about. There is no trillion-dollar infrastructure program. The new tax law is unpopular, seen as largely a giveaway to corporations and the rich. It has not boosted economic growth as promised. Health care is now even more complex, given the partial repeal of Obamacare.

And then there are Trump’s own approval ratings, lower than any President’s in modern history at this point in his term except Jimmy Carter’s. Oh, and add to that the cloud of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III. What is the way out for Republicans?

Focus on the cultural anxieties of the American public. Nothing embodies these fears as much as immigration. It has become a catch-all, particularly among non-college-educated whites, Trump’s core supporters. The President has often noted how crucial the border wall is to his base, declaring that “the thing they want more than anything is the wall.” Indeed, a recent poll indicated that 81 percent of Republicans want the wall to be built.

In a midterm, in which it is crucial to bring out your most ardent supporters, nothing will work as well as immigration. (Though do not be surprised if Trump also picks a few fights with black athletes or victims of police violence in the coming months.)

A study published last week by the National Academy of Sciences finds that Trump voters in the 2016 election were motivated less by economic anxiety and more by status anxiety — fears of waning power and status in a changing country. And an earlier analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute had come to a similar conclusion, highlighting “fears about cultural displacement” as the key to understanding the motivations of white, working-class Trump voters.

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Trump may not read academic studies, but he clearly understands in his gut what stirs his base. And he is determined to inflame these fears regardless of the facts or the effect it will have on the country.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

All the news that’s fit to fake


April 11, 2018

All the news that’s fit to fake

As Malaysia rushes to its 9 May polling day, the new anti-fake news law may be wielded against the state’s critics, emboldening speech vigilantism by outsourced censors.

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The Malaysian Parliament passed the Anti-Fake News Law a week ago on 2 April 2018, just in time for the 14th general elections (GE14) on 9 May. It wasn’t the most controversial law to have gone through the Barisan Nasional (BN)-dominated legislature, as the National Security Council Act passed in 2016 gives wide powers to the government to declare a state of emergency. But surely the Anti-Fake News Law is one of the many designed with clear targets in mind—dissenters and critics, and just about anyone who dares to verbalise any thoughts or opinions that challenge the establishment.

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The law has yet to be gazetted, which is needed for it to be enforced. But its introduction is enough to raise fears among journalists, bloggers, politicians and netizens who speak out on social media. A maximum six-year jail term replaced the 10 years initially penned in, while the term “knowingly” in creating and spreading false news now reads “maliciously”. The change was presented as a compromise from the government following strong criticism, but it did little to placate concerns that the law is essentially problematic as it violates fundamental principles of freedom of expression. Besides, one cannot help but wonder if the “compromise” was a deliberate strategy to demonstrate a responsive government that should be voted back in.

The road to this haphazard but possibly shrewdly crafted law has been paved with a series of cosmetic reforms under Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak since he took office in 2009. While some laws like the Internal Security Act (ISA) were repealed, others introduced still contain draconian provisions. This latest law promises to fill in the gaps of what the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) couldn’t do in reining in free speech online. Since the 2008 general elections (GE12), the CMA has been a useful tool for the state to use in clamping down online critics.

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In most cases, those hauled up for investigations were individuals sharing their thoughts and opinions over Twitter, Facebook and even WhatsApp. Activists and artists have also been charged under the law for satire and criticisms levelled against the government. It was a reminder to ordinary citizens that they had to toe the line, and what better way of instilling fear than to arrest and threaten them with jail sentences. According to human rights organisation SUARAM, there were 146 known documented cases under the CMA in 2017 alone. It observed that it was much easier to prosecute for speech under the law. However, most who were charged under the law would plead guilty, and only a few mounted constitutional challenges.

In 2017, plans were afoot to amend the CMA as the authorities sought more powers to investigate and prosecute online offenders and increase the penalties. The changes were not tabled but it can be assumed that the initial idea behind that proposal had found its way into the Anti-Fake News Law.

For most observers, the obvious reason behind this rushed law is to keep the scandalous 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) wealth fund and other financial misappropriations out of the electorate’s focus. This is a punitive law that fails to provide any clarity on the meaning or parameters of “fake news”, but criminalises a wide array of speech online and offline. It is thus obvious that “fake news”, as defined by the Najib government, is a catch-all phrase to allow politicians to delegitimise any forms of criticism; businesses to slam dunk their complainants using state resources; and turn members of society against each other on potentially frivolous allegations of spreading allegedly false content.

The latter is the most worrying as the state has outsourced censorship to a range of private individuals and groups to act on its behalf, to defend, among others, narrow interpretations of Islam and Malay rights. The state is then presented as having a hands-off approach even though it gives tacit approval for many of these acts of political and social vigilantism. Which is why, even if Najib’s UMNO-led coalition wins a two-thirds majority in Parliament at GE14, Malaysians can expect the law to be applied actively after the elections.

That the law does not specify the context in which “fake news” can occur—for example, during elections, as proposed in France—means that its application will be wide, arbitrary, and disproportionate to the alleged offences. Citing the other jurisdictions in Europe as justification is irrelevant as Malaysia’s law was passed amidst an already restricted environment for free speech and the media. Besides, it’s not falsehoods that the government is worried about, or that it could harm ordinary citizens; it is the expose of abuse of power that it fears. Malaysian leaders are much like the authoritarian leaders across Asia who have found US President Donald J. Trump’s language of “fake news”—an accusation he directs to the media he doesn’t like—useful to justify their controls at home.

Independent media outlets and journalists in Malaysia, as well as social media users, can expect to be on the target list. They are already cornered at almost every turn with the CMA, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and the Defamation Act, just to name a few. Scenarios in which the media could be affected by the law include publishing developing stories (corruption, crisis, emergencies, political events) that rely on sources or witness accounts, and reportage based on information and data collected by think-tanks, academics or non-governmental organisations.

The mainstream, pro-government media, on the other hand, may be exempt from this as they continue to function as mouthpieces of the ruling party and have a stake in legal obstacles for smaller and less-resourced competitors. Since the 2008 elections, online platforms and social media in particular, have overtaken the mainstream licensed media as the primary sources of information. Many of the legacy media companies have acknowledged challenges posed by digital technologies on their business models, and have experienced serious financial losses and falling circulation over the years.

Of course, the media landscape is not defined in binaries, the good vs the bad, independent and otherwise. But to a large extent, the mainstream media has propped the government and has done little to remedy the loss of credibility it has suffered in the process. Even the BN set up its own news platform, The Rakyat, for the elections and its leaders have increased their presence on social media significantly since the 2008 defeat online, in order to reach out to younger Malaysians. It might just be that the BN has lost confidence in the mainstream media, which it controls, to deliver the votes it needs.

Even if the Anti-Fake News Law has yet to be operationalised, it is certain that “fake news” will be a feature of the elections. Leaders from all sides of the political divide are sure to frame their narratives in this language. Citizens and voters will have to navigate through the vast and complex web of information sources to find what is useful for them. And now that “fake news” has become a clear and present danger to society, BN’s online machinery and its cybertroopers will tap into that goldmine of public “confusion” to discredit its opponents.

Instead of legislating against so-called fake news, it would have been far better to promote public discussions about politics and governance, and encourage digital media literacy at various levels. With GE14, it is important that voters take the time to be more discerning of the information they receive. As most people are expected to share news and updates on social media including chat applications, it will be challenging to verify the sources of authenticity of the information. This can be a tall order as most people are likely to trust messages from friends or family members, especially if these affirm one’s pre-existing political positions.

This GE14 will not only be a social media “war”, it will also witness how far Malaysia’s politics will be able to cope with new forms of propaganda and misinformation.