Posts Tagged 'Freedom of expression'

When the blog gets popular, the popular gets blocked?

What do you do when a blog becomes too popular for the liking of the powers-that-be?

Well, it appears that a ‘solution’ has been found: you just gazette it as a ‘political association’ — with all the accompanying rules that govern a political entity.

Below is the comment made by the blog’s (The Online Citizen) columnist, Leong Sze Hian, regarding the turn of event as posted in Malaysiakini:

I would like to devote my weekly column for this week to the Singapore blog The Online Citizen (TOC).

I have been a columnist for TOC since it started in December 2006, and have written over 300 articles. Recently the Singapore government has emailed TOC to inform them that it will be gazetted a as political association.

That means TOC is now required to declare its owners, editorial team, administrators, and designate a president, treasurer and secretary in accordance with the regulations.

The move also means the website will be barred from receiving funds from foreign donors and from allowing foreigners to participate in its events.

What does this mean for my regular ‘Uniquely Singapore’ column on TOC?

Well, for starters, under the rules for a political association, I will not be able to write, report, analyse or comment about the elections, when the next election expected to take place this year comes.

Since there is a prohibition on affiliating with any political party or supporting any political candidate, does it mean that I cannot write about a political party’s manifesto, or interview a political candidate, etc?

A world’s first

Since TOC is also required to be registered with the Media Development Authority (MDA), does it mean that I will be subject to censorship under the MDA’s rules, and just like say RTM, be wary of putting up ‘undesirable’ content?

TOC has sent an appeal to Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong to reconsider the gazetting.

Singaporeans, Singaporean bloggers, and perhaps their counterparts and proponents of freedom of expression all over the world may be holding their breath, as this saga continues. 

Will history be made, as a group of citizen bloggers who are all volunteers – with not a single full-time staff, and no funding – become the first blogging web site in the world to be gazetted by a government as a political association? The deadline given to TOC to comply is 24 January. 

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Charge of the light brigade

Like everything else in contemporary Malaysian life, this piece requires a caveat before I can really begin to write without being painfully misunderstood or, worse, getting myself into trouble by having some serious-looking blokes lodging a police report against me. 

I am saying this because I am reminded of the reported case of a Malaysian blogger, writing by his cyber name of Hassan Skodeng, who got himself into trouble for having written a satirical piece or parody about the powerhouse Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB). He is to be charged in court today (Sept. 2, 2010) under Section 233(1)(a) of the Multimedia and Communications Act 1998, for allegedly “creating and spreading lies with the malicious intent to hurt others.” If found guilty, he is punishable by imprisonment up to a year and/or fine of RM50,000 or less. No laughing matter here. 

According to a news report in The Star today (Sept. 2, 2010), Skodeng’s article asserted that TNB would be suing WWF for organising an ‘Earth Hour’ campaign, which was costing the corporation ‘millions in unrealised revenue’. 

To be sure, I am not trying to make light of this case as it does appear that the authorities concerned have taken this supposedly satire rather seriously. Come to think of it, perhaps there’s a blessing in disguise from this episode in that satires are finally taken seriously by people who matter — instead of being merely dismissed as balderdash.

For the rest of the article, see here.

Blogus interruptus?

The thought of controlling the cyberspace lurks in the restless minds of the powerful. And that’s why there have been attempts in the past to ‘interrupt’ the smooth flow of information and opinions as well as sharing of ideas from time to time.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that the idea of registering bloggers has been floated recently. And if it does gain currency and support from the powers-that-be, this might signal an uncertain, if not bleak, future in Malaysian cyberspace as far as freedom of expression is concerned.

This is because as it is, we already have enough restrictive laws that govern freedom of expression in the country.

Why are there Malaysians still asking why people stage demonstrations?

Yes, there are still people who wonder why demonstrations are staged by Malaysians.

To be sure, street demonstrations are very much part and parcel of democracy because these activities provide the platform for people to exercise their right to express their sentiments peacefully for public consumption.

This democratic space is especially vital in a social context where access to the mainstream media is difficult for certain groups of people to put forward their arguments to the powers-that-be and to share these sentiments with the general public. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that demonstrations are not kosher if and when the mainstream media are easily accessible.

In a democracy, you get demonstrations not only staged by groups who are opposed to the government because of certain policies or actions of the latter, but also groups who are supportive of the government.

That’s why, for instance, you had the Bersih or Hindraf demonstration as well as the recent MCA Youth street protest.

As to whether such demonstrations would give a negative image of the country, one should critically ask the question whether it is the image of the country that is affected, or indeed that of the government of the day? Here it is crucial that the distinction between country and government should not be wittingly or unwittingly blurred.

 

Continue reading ‘Why are there Malaysians still asking why people stage demonstrations?’

Burning cycling spirit

Malaysiakini reported that unknown arsonists had torched the bicycles of the Jerit volunteers early this morning in Penang, an act that is believed to be politically motivated.

One may need to realise that burning those bicycles would be taken as a challenge and in turn would only fire up the spirits and determination of the Jerit cyclists to move on with their stated agenda.

It is sad that a peaceful initiative such as the Jerit endeavour to raise public awareness is met with violent opposition.

Here’s an extract from the Malaysiakini report

Arsonists torch Jerit bicycles
Athi Veranggan | Dec 7, 08 7:00pm 
The embattled Jerit cyclists continued to be besieged with more trouble, this time from unknown arsonists who torched their bicycles in Penanti, Penang early this morning.penang jerit cycling campaign 071208 burned bicycle At least eight bicycles were damaged, three severely, in the fire which was set by the arsonists at about 3am in Yayasan Aman building, located in mainland Penang.The tired cyclists have put up the night in the building after traveling nearly 100km across Kedah and Penang when the bicycles were set on fire.Fortunately a Jerit coordinator, Liew Shin Siong, 40, who was sleeping on the ground floor of the building, managed to douse the fire before it damaged all the bicycles.

penang jerit cycling campaign 071208 police investigetingHe was awoken by a mild explosion, presumably from burning tyres.

While the cyclists were putting out the fire, they overheard a man’s voice shouting at them – ‘hidup atau mati, tak peduli’ (alive or death, don’t care) from a car, which was parked near the building.

They could not identify the man, who was accompanied by a number of others, as it was dark. They sped off immediately after.

penang jerit cycling campaign 071208 raniA Jerit coordinator R Mohana Rani did not rule out that the arson could be politically motivated to sabotage their ‘Ride for Change’ campaign, which pedaled off from Alor Star on Dec 2.

“From the very beginning, we have been harassed by the police. We have been accused of organising an illegal bicycle procession and causing traffic jams,” she said.

Police have taken six damaged bicycles to assist in their investigation, but Mohana Rani is not confident that the probe will result in arrest.

Occupational hazards of a Malaysian videographer?

Malaysiakini reported that its videographer, Syukri Mohamad, was arrested together with 22 other individuals who were involved in a candlelight vigil to protest against the draconian ISA near Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya last night.

 

Although Syukri has already been released on police bail, there is cause for concern nonetheless because he was arrested on the grounds that he was ‘part of the illegal organisation’.

 

I am quite puzzled here. Does this mean that a videographer or journalist covering a rally that does not obtain a police permit will necessarily be deemed party to members of that ‘illegal’ rally?

 

If one were to follow through this argument, would it be possible for a journalist to perform her duty in the most professional manner possible to report, say, an industrial strike that is staged by a group of disgruntled workers who, incidentally, do not seek police permit?

 

For that matter, can a journalist report an illegal motorbike racing or a Mat Rempit ‘outing’ on a lonely street in town?

 

Worse, should a journalist carry out her duty if she happens to be in the vicinity of a bank robbery (that is certainly illegal)?

 

Or can one hazard a guess here: she is expected to abandon her responsibility as a journalist?

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.