What did they learn from Permatang Pauh?

It seems that if there’s one thing the BN government did learn from the recently held Permatang Pauh by-election, it is that websites and blogs are to be considered as irritants that need to be censored or blacked out of the cyberspace.

Well, at least this is what we can deduce if what The Malaysian Insider reported is true. It said that the government was planning to crack down on webmasters and bloggers, particularly those who ‘make all sorts of allegations’ that go unchallenged. See below for a full report.

And as if to show that they mean business, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has ordered all internet service providers (ISPs) to block controversial online portal Malaysia Today. (See below for a full report from Malaysiakini.)

For the uninitiated, some bloggers had played a major role in the recent Permatang Pauh by-election in providing certain news and information that normally do not see the light of day in the predictable mainstream media. In short, they tried to fill the gap of information.

What we are saying here, as others had pointed out before, is that censoring or blocking blogs and websites does not necessarily make much of the mainstream media more ethical, professional, accountable and above all, credible. This is why many Malaysians, particularly the young, seek the new media for news and information that they can’t get elsewhere.

To be sure, free and responsible media, both traditional and new, are vital for the proper functioning of a democracy.


The Malaysian Insider

Government to target blogosphere next
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 Next up: a crackdown on bloggers. This possibility looms large after the government reached a sober assessment that it could all end in tears for the Barisan Nasional at the next general election if tough action is not taken to counter allegations on the Net and hold owners of blogs accountable.This conclusion was reached during a meeting last week involving several Cabinet ministers and senior government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Government officials noted that some 400,000 new voters are registered each year.

Assuming that the next polls are in five years, there would be two million new voters the next time the BN seeks a fresh mandate. A large chunk of these two million voters are likely to obtain their news and information from websites and blogs, and not from the mainstream media.

Several ministers noted that if the government followed its current policy of allowing allegations by bloggers to go unchallenged, this would create the perception that the information being posted is accurate.”There is a growing consensus in government that those who run websites and blogs should be held accountable and this means that laws should be used to take action against those who defame and spread disinformation.

“If not, we are going to have a situation where everyone will be free to make all sorts of allegations with no downside at all. There is a fear that the trust level with BN would be very low if nothing is done, ” said a senior government official familiar with details of the meeting.

The prevailing mood in the government against the alternative media is one of frustration. After decades of being able to control newspapers and television stations through a raft of legislation, government officials and politicians are finding that their tools are useless in setting boundaries for new media.

At last week’s meeting, an official of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) explained that the authorities have not come down hard on websites and bloggers because Section 3 of the Communications and Multimedia Act prohibits any form of censorship.

But government officials corrected him and said that the guarantee that the Internet would not be censored did not preclude legal action from being taken against bloggers for defamation and sedition.

They pointed out that the Singapore government had hauled several bloggers to court for a series of offences and suggested that the Malaysian government should follow suit.

In the aftermath of Election 2008, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that the government paid a heavy price by allowing accusations and reports on the Internet to go unchallenged.

He said that the BN underestimated the power of the Internet and committed a serious misjudgment by relying on the mainstream media in the run-up to the general election.

His comments resulted in the Information Ministry reaching out to some prominent bloggers and giving them some air-time on television but by and large the relationship between the alternative media and the government has remained testy.

In recent months, Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the country’s best-known political blogger, has had a running battle with Najib and his wife, implicating both of them in the October 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shariibuu. The DPM has also been on the receiving end of other damaging allegations.

His supporters in Umno have been pushing for a more hardnosed approach in dealing with bloggers and operators of news portals, arguing that the softer touch by the Abdullah administration has resulted in daily attacks on ministers and BN politicians.

Critics of the government said that instead of focusing on bloggers and the alternative media, they should strive for more accountability and transparency, and remove the shackles on the mainstream media.


Malaysia Today blocked! Order from MCMC
Andrew Ong | Aug 27, 08 5:29pm Malaysiakini 
 In a rare move, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has ordered all internet service providers (ISPs) to block controversial online portal Malaysia Today.


malaysia today website 270808MCMC chief operating officer Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi, when contacted today, confirmed that the block was ordered by the commission, which is the regulatory body for online content.

“It is being blocked because we found that some of the comments on the website were insensitive, bordering on incitement,” he told Malaysiakini.

As at 7pm, a check by Malaysiakini showed users are unable to access Malaysia Today through three major ISPs – TMnet, Maxis and Time. However, users can still access the errant website through Jaring. 

malaysia today blocked by tm net proof 270808This is the first time such curbs have been initiated against a non-pornographic website, posing questions as to whether the government is reneging on its no-Internet censorship pledge.

Under the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Malaysia 10 Point Bill of Guarantees, the government promises to ensure no internet censorship.

The domain name – http://www.malaysia-today.net – has been unaccessible to TMnet subscribers since yesterday evening as a result of the blockage – known technically as ‘DNS blackhole list’. [See full image]

Local internet users however can still access the website by typing in Malaysia Today’s IP address or an alternative web address in their web browsers.

‘Ethical blogging’

Mohamed Sharil said MCMC had instructed all ISPs to block access to Malaysia Today based on complaints received by the general public regarding offensive comments posted on the website.

Asked if the move to block Malaysia Today went against the government’s guarantee of Internet freedom, he said that the matter was subject to interpretation.

“We are governed by the Communications and Multimedia Act (1998) which allows us to take preventive measures and advise our license holders (such as ISPs) when a service user may be contravening national laws,” he said.

Under Section 263 of the Act, a licensee must “use his best endeavour” to prevent his/her facilities from being used to violate any law in the country”.

Mohamed Sharil said that MCMC will be communicating with the Malaysia Today owner Raja Petra Kamaruddin and other blog owners soon regarding “ethical blogging”.

“We are not against blogs, but we would like to see ethical blogging,” he stressed.

RPK: Why should I protest?

Meanwhile, Raja Petra said he is in the dark as to why his website was being blocked, adding that he heard rumours of a MCMC circular.

raja petra released from prison 090508 04“I couldn’t be bothered to protest (against the move). What do you expect me to do? Do you think they would listen?” he asked when contacted.

Over the years, Raja Petra has attracted a strong fan base and a string of lawsuits due to his no-holds-barred articles and knack for posting sensitive documents online.

In an immediate reaction, Communication and Multimedia Licensee Association (CMLA) – which represents all ISP licence holders in Malaysia – urged bloggers to practice self-regulation.

“We support the open flow of information across the Internet and a self-regulating environment,” said CMLA chairperson Afzal Abdul Rahim.

“The best way for us to find some amenable middle ground between airing opinions and being partial to community sensitivities, we strongly urge the blogosphere to practise a commensurate amount of self-moderation,” he said.


1 Response to “What did they learn from Permatang Pauh?”

  1. 1 Han 29 August 2008 at 4:51 pm

    “To be sure, free and responsible media, both traditional and new, are vital for the proper functioning of a democracy.”

    To be fair, there is no evidence that our government is interested in setting up a democracy. If there is rhetoric to suggest otherwise, we only have to look at their actions.

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