(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Police yesterday said certain groups were "fishing in troubled waters" by spreading malicious rumours to worsen the economic problems faced by the country.
Police public relations officer, Supt. Ghazali Mohd Amin said these groups linked their rumours to the spiralling prices of essentials, which could threaten public order.
They are also reported to be spreading stories about banks going bust, causing panic among the depositors and prompting them to withdraw their savings.
Ghazalie warned them to stop these irresponsible acts or they could be charged under Section 28 of the Internal Security Act 1969 which carries a fine of RM1,000 or a year’s jail or both or they could be hauled up under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which provides for a jail sentence not exceeding three years or a fine not more than RM2,000. The Sedition Act could also be invoked which carries a prison term not more than three years or RM3,000 fine or five years’ jail for the second offence.
Rumour-mongers must be condemned and a menace to society. However, the authorities must understand why rumours today are so rife at this stage of the national economic crisis. Instead of using scare tactics warning of arrests and prosecutions for spreading rumours, the government should take a proactive and positive approach to create a climate of informed society where rumours cannot flourish.
The authorities should realise that whatever the warnings about the Internal Security Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Sedition Act cannot be effective to deal with the problem of rumours unless Malaysia is to become a police state.
The most effective way to fight rumours is to have a society of openness, accountability and transparency.
The prevalence of rumours, particularly of the type mentioned, is a reflection of an unhealthy economic system which could not inspire the confidence of the people and is part of the crisis of confidence in the country.
Instead of dealing with the symptoms of the crisis of confidence, as reflected by the rifeness of rumours, the government should deal with the root causes, which is to respect the right to information of Malaysians, restore press freedom where Malaysian mass media can enjoy public credibility and confidence, and introduce accountability and transparency into the economic and financial system.