Despite jubilation over the Opposition's win in the 26th August by-elections, political bloggers in Malaysia face the sobering prospect of the government taking tougher action against blog and website owners.
Online news has reported that the government is serious in countering online allegations against them by taking alleged wrongdoers to court for defamation and sedition. This decision was said to have been reached during a meeting last week involving several Cabinet ministers and senior government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The government now realises that online news is the preferred information source over mainstream media for Malaysians. It was reported that the government understands the significance of leaving online allegations unchecked, especially after their failing to secure two-thirds majority in the lower Parliamentary house during the March 8th elections, as well as the recent landslide victory of Opposition icon, Anwar Ibrahim, during yesterday’s by-elections in Permatang Pauh.
After decades of managing information through legislation regulating mainstream media, the government faces frustration with the availability of online information. Malaysia’s Communications & Multimedia Act 1998 disallows censorship of the Internet, leaving the government only three legal alternatives: on a national level, sedition and the provisions under Internal Security Act 1960 (which allows for detention without trial); and on a private level, defamation law suits (see also Jeff Ooi on defamation).
This year has seen the government dealing with blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin (or RPK) for sedition, while there are ongoing investigations against blogger Sheih, also for sedition. Blogger Bakaq was taken in recently for questioning, also for alleged sedition. Aside from this, RPK faces a defamation action. As such, the stance of the government against bloggers appears quite clear. Critics have called for less focus on alternative news, but rather greater accountability and transparency. They have also called for the abolition of the legal shackles on the mainstream media.
On a possibly related issue, bloggers have reported that RPK's news portal, Malaysia Today, might have been blocked by authorities. Apparently, the news portal cannot be accessed through any TM connections. TM is run by Telekom Malaysia, Malaysia's largest Internet service provider. Online news site Malaysiakini has confirmed in its report that RPK's Malaysia Today has been blocked by the order of Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
Malaysia Today can be accessed through its mirror site here.