Malaysia: Online content and related developments

In brief

Proposed licensing of social media and internet messaging services providers and a new draft bill on digital safety – these are some of the recent updates in the online content space for Malaysia.


In more detail

On 15 December 2023, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)  reported that there was a significant increase in harmful content on social media and over-the-top platforms in 2023 as compared to in 2022.1 Against this backdrop, the Malaysian Government (as with its counterparts in the region) is increasingly concerned about online safety and the harms that materialise as part of the proliferation of online content.

  • Previously, we highlighted the announcement by the MCMC in December 2022 about the review of the online content regulation and framework: see our client alert here.
  • There was also a subsequent announcement by the MCMC in September 2023, hinting at the introduction of  a regulatory framework to address issues such as online harm: see our client alert here.
  • The Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (an industry body registered with the MCMC) also introduced new content classification ratings and best practices for online curated content providers in December 2023: see our client alert here.

Following on from the above, the announcements made by the Malaysian Government in the first three months of 2024 (as briefly summarised below), continue to hint at additional regulations being promulgated relating to online safety.

Proposed licensing of online services providers

The Deputy Communications Minister shared in the Parliament on 19 March 2024 that the proposal to licence online service providers, is being refined and the MCMC is in the midst of completing such licensing framework.2 The framework purports to target providers of social media and internet messaging services which are accessible by users in Malaysia, and intends to enhance the level of online safety and address content that violates national laws.

New draft bill on online safety

The Communications Minister announced in February 2024 the formation of a cross-ministries committee to address online security issues, especially in relation to children.3 On 13 March 2024, the Working Committee Meeting on the Drafting of New Laws Related to Cybercrime No. 2 / 2024 announced that the working draft for the Digital Safety Bill 2023 has been completed.4 On 19 March 2024, the Deputy Communications Minister shared that the Communications Ministry has been working together with Legal Affairs Division under the Prime Minister’s Department to carry out a study to enact the Online Safety Act.5

In the meantime, the Communications Minister noted that the MCMC is collaborating with the main telecommunications service providers in Malaysia to offer parental control tools for parents to filter, limit and block online content viewed by their children.6

Review of penalties and other aspects in the legislation

The Cabinet is reported to have approved in principle, on 8 March 2024, a review of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).7 The Communications Minister shared that the review would address the following amendments:

  • Penalties available under the law to meet the current economic conditions
  • Technical issues given the growth of the telecommunications industry
  • Section 233 of the CMA based on feedback from legislators

For context, Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA prohibits networked transmission of communication that is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person. It has been regularly invoked for enforcement purposes e.g., a total of 65 charges have been filed out of 876 cases investigated in the 5-year period between 2018 and 2023.8

New journalism ethics code

Launched on 20 February 2024, the Malaysian Code of Ethics for Journalists ("Code") is hoped to “expand the media’s role in fighting fake news by providing the people with the tools they need to be able to confidently verify posts and news they see on social media”, said the Communications Minister.9 This Code is an update to its predecessor introduced in 1989 to be in line with technological developments, outlining eight ethical principles for journalists.

Establishment of media council

On a related note, the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council is said to have been approved in policy by the Cabinet on 21 February 2024.10 The Communications Minister shared that the Malaysian Media Council Bill is being finalised and may be tabled in the Parliament for approval in June 2024. This Bill is expected to include, among others, dispute resolution procedure for public complaints against the media. Previously, it was reported that the Malaysian Media Council would cover all types of media in Malaysia, including electronic and online media.11

Addressing online anonymity

The Chairman of the Online Harms and Information Security Committee, a special committee under the MCMC, has also proposed a number measures to address the issue of anonymous users and scams e.g.,:12

  • Registration of social media, over-the-top platforms and digital services providers
  • Legal responsibility on these providers to verify identity of those individuals accessing network facilities and to adopt a strict know-your-customer policy
  • Fines on these providers proportionate to their global revenue in the event of breaches
  • Prohibition on unsolicited digital communications without identifying the actual sender

Some of the recent developments (e.g., proposed licensing of certain online services providers) are consistent with the proposed measures above. It remains to be seen whether other measures will eventually materialise.

Concluding remarks

The aforementioned developments evidence an increased focus by the Malaysian Government and a deep-seated commitment and effort to address online harms and encourage online safety. All enterprises are encouraged to watch the development of this space closely in the months to come as regulation in this space heats up.



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