‘Fake news diminished trust in electoral institutions’

Trust in electoral institutions diminished in the 2018 polls because of “false information and fake news” and “false statements” by political parties according to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights chairman Alvick Maharaj in Parliament last week. Picture: SUPPLIED

Trust in electoral institutions diminished in the 2018 polls because of “false information and fake news” and “false statements” by political parties.

This, according to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights chairman Alvick Maharaj in Parliament last Saturday.

He said these were some of the concerns raised during consultations on the proposed Electoral Amendment Bill 2020.

He said concerns were raised in clause 35 of the Bill where “certain submitters argued that this provision could have the potential for abuse by the elections office.”

Mr Maharaj said the offence carried a heavy penalty with a fine of up to $50,000 or a five-year jail term or both, “which contradicts Recommendation 5 of the MOG Report which says that penalties for electoral offences should be proportionate and generally civil in nature rather than criminal”.

“To address this, it should be noted that the 2018 General Election saw a proliferation of false information and fake news,” he said.

“The actions also resulted in the MOG finding that the trust in electoral institutions were diminished.

“It was advised that it is necessary for a speedy action to be taken on any information that is false and also fake.

“The appeal process should be expedient.

“The penalties are high for breaches because the law needs to emphasise these as deterrents.”

Mr Maharaj said the Court would ultimately issue a penalty based on the circumstances of each case.

“The committee was further advised that the Electoral Commission nor the Supervisor of Elections can fine any person.

“In terms of any grievance against the Supervisor of Elections, the law addresses such circumstances while ensuring that the impartiality of the Electoral Commission is protected under Section 5(8) of the Electoral Act 2014.”

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