- The meaning of publication of unverified news/facts.
- Consequence of defamation in a criminal charge and civil suit.
- Damages to the person who has been defamed.
Not Sure? Then Don’t Share! – Consequences Of Sharing Unverified News/Facts To The Public
Q1. What are considered as unverified news/facts?
a. In the world of technology where information can be passed easily and speedily to the public, more people are being irresponsible in sharing information by not checking the real facts for the sake of being “the first person” to know an information;
b. Unverified news is news or information which have never been verified by the authority such as Minister of Health and National Security Council or news item which has not appeared on any official portal or reputable news portal or information that has not been going through fact checking.
c. Unverified or untrue news/facts also could result in tarnishing the reputation of an individual or establishment.
Q2. What is the result of sharing unverified news/facts?
When you shared unverified news or facts to a third party of public at large, you have defamed the person and/or party who were the subject matter of the unverified news/facts.
Q3. What kind of consequence due to sharing unverified or untrue news/facts?
a. Whoever who shared unverified or untrue news or facts are liable to be committing a criminal offence.
b. Civil suit may also be initiated by the party/individual who had been defamed by the sharing of unverified news/facts.
Q4. What would be the criminal consequence?
a. According to Section 499 of Penal Code (Act 574), 1whoever, 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.
b. Summarily, if a person, using verbal or written words, makes or publishes: –
i. Any claim about a person, intending to hurt his/her reputation or having reason to believe such claim will harm the reputation;
ii. Is liable to defame that person
c. Meanwhile, according to Section 500 of Penal Code2, whoever defames another shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both
d. Based on Section 500 of Penal Code, if a police report is made against a person for defaming another individual or an establishment or authority, they will be charged with criminal defamation by the Public Prosecutor and go through a full Trial to prove their innocence. Failing which, the Court will sentence them with imprisonment or fine or both depending on the gravity and the impact of defamatory words used against the victim and the public interest3
e. A person who circulates fake news will also be criminally liable for an offence under Section 233 of Communications and Multimedia Act which carry a punishment of a fine not exceeding fifty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both and shall also be liable to a further fine of one thousand ringgit for every day during which the offence is continued after conviction4.
Q5. What would be the civil consequence?
a. If a person who was defamed by publication of untrue facts which has tarnished his reputation in public eyes, a suit can be filed against the person who has made the said publication.
b. The suit must be filed by way or Writ and Statement and can be heard before the High Court or Lower Court, depending on the damages seek for.
c. The elements that must be established in the Court by the Plaintiff (person who has been defamed) are5:-
i. the statements must be defamatory,
ii. the statements must refer to the Plaintiff; and
iii. the statements must be published by the Defendants to a third party.
Q6. How can a statement be considered as referring to the Plaintiff?
a. A published statement must be of the Plaintiff, either directly or indirectly;
b. To succeed in proving indirect reference to the Plaintiff in a publication, the Plaintiff has to furnish an answer to satisfy the court that the words used would reasonably in the circumstances lead persons acquainted with the Plaintiff to believe that he was the person referred to.6
Q7. What can be considered as publication to third party?
In law, to constitute publication to the third party, the defamatory matter must be published to a third person other than the Plaintiff. In other words, it is the making known of the defamatory matter, after it has been written, to some person other than the person to whom it is written.7
Q8. How can a statement be defamatory?
a. There is no definite definition on what statement is defamatory in nature, however the following tests shall assist in determining whether a statement is defamatory or otherwise8: –
i. Would the imputation tend to ‘lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally’?
ii. Would the imputation tend to cause others to shun or avoid the Plaintiff? and
iii. Would the words tend to expose the plaintiff to ‘hatred, contempt or ridicule’?
b. Another test is whether the words published in their natural and ordinary meaning impute to the Plaintiff any dishonourable or discreditable conduct or motives or a lack of integrity on his part? If it is in the affirmative, then the statements complained of are defamatory 9.
Q9. How would the Court asses the damages in favour of the Plaintiff should defamation is proven?
a. There are several factors that the Court will consider in assessing the damages to be awarded to the Plaintiff as follows10:-
i. The gravity of the allegation.
ii. The size and influence of the circulation.
iii. The effect of the publication.
iv. The extent and nature of the claimant’s reputation.
v. The behaviour of the defendant.
vi. The behaviour of the claimant.
Q10. How to avoid sharing unverified news?
a. Before sharing a news, make sure you have done fact checking with the correct and trusted channel;
b. If you are not sure of a news that you have heard from another individual, then do not share in any platform.
 Section 499 of Penal Code (Revised 1997)
 Section 500 of Penal Code (Revised 1997)
 PP V. Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim (NO 3)  2 CLJ 215
 Section 233 of Communication and Multimedia Act 1998
 Mohd Nasir bin Mustafa v Mohd Hanafiah bin Hanafi & Ors and another suit  9 MLJ 811
 Institute of Commercial Management United Kingdom v New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Bhd  1 MLJ 408
 Ayob Bin Saud v TS Sambanthamurthi  1 MLJ 315
 Datuk Seri Anwar bin Ibrahim v Wan Muhammad Azri bin Wan Deris  9 MLJ 605
 Chok Foo Choo @ Chok Kee Lian V The China Press Bhd  1 MLJ 371
 Chin Choon @ Chin Tee Fut v Chua Jui Meng  3 MLJ 494
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