Archive for August 30th, 2008

Malaysia Today and tomorrow

The recent blocking of the controversial Malaysia Today website by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (SKMM) is not only unprecedented, but also obviously has serious repercussions on Internet use and freedom of expression in Malaysia.

Energy, Water and Communications Minister Shaziman Abu Mansor claimed that ‘The Government did not instruct the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (SKMM) to block access to the Malaysia Today website.’

He added that ‘the Government had only given a “general instruction” to the commission to allow all blogs and websites to function provided they adhered to provisions under the Communications and Multimedia Act.’

It would take a bit more effort on the part of the minister to convince sceptical Malaysians of the SKMM’s independence of the government. Besides, given the powers provided by the Act, the said minister could have instead advised the Commission against blocking access to Malaysia Today as it contravenes the no-censorship provision of the Act.

A look at the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 reveals, in Section 3 (3) of Part I (Preliminary) of the Act, that ‘Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the Internet’.

Whatever the case may be, the fact is free access to a website has been denied to Malaysian citizens and other interested parties.

And even if it’s true, as alleged by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, that Malaysia Today had been ‘libelous, defamatory and slanderous’, blocking the website is akin to killing an ant with a sledgehammer. There is, to be sure, the defamation law that can handle such problems.

Even former PM Mahathir Mohamad, who’s so inclined towards curbing press freedom and freedom of expression during his premiership, is hopping mad over this ban as it violates the no-Internet censorship policy.

Without blinking an eye, the doctor slammed the government’s action as demonstrating ‘a degree of oppressive arrogance worthy of a totalitarian state’.

The fact that this blocking was exercised after the recent Permatang Pauh by-election also lends suspicion that the government intends to make Malaysia Today a warning to other websites and blogs, especially those critical of the government.

Put another way, this episode indicates that an avenue, i.e. the Internet, that provides an alternative to the controlled mainstream media is increasingly facing threats from the government.

This is certainly not a nice way to usher in the 51st anniversary of our ‘independence’ tomorrow, and beyond.