Amidst uproar from Malaysian netizens, today's announcement by the Energy, Water & Communications Minister, Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansur, has put a new kink in the plot. Datuk Shaziman was reported to have said that the government had not ordered the Malaysian Today website to be banned.
According to news reports, Datuk Shaziman stated that the government only gave “general instruction” to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to allow all blogs and websites to function provided they adhered to provisions under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. In the same report, Datuk Shaziman confirmed the commission's independence, and that he “was told” by the commission that they intended to block the news portal under the provisions of s. 263 of the Act.
Datuk Shaziman also stated that that todate 127 websites and blogs have been blocked for contravention of various provisions of the Act.
These statements appear to be in stark contrast to statements made yesterday by Home Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar. According to news reports, he said, “Everyone is subject to the law, even websites and blogs. We do not intend to curtail people’s freedom or right to express themselves. But when they publish things that are libellous, slanderous or defamatory, it is natural for SKMM to act,”
In that same news report, MCMC chief operating officer, Mohamed Sharil Mohamed Tarmizi, was said to have confirmed the order but had declined to elaborate.
So whose decision was it to block Malaysia Today?
Interestingly, s. 263 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is in relation to the prevention of a commissions of offences under any law in Malaysia. Home Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, was stated to have said that the Malaysia Today has a tendency to publish (or allow to be published) “libellous, slanderous or defamatory” statements. Yet, these are not offences under the laws of Malaysia. These are private matters for the aggrieved party to settle with the alleged wrongdoer in the courts.
This recent decent development raises more questions than answers.
The censure of Malaysia Today has caused discontentment among bloggers, including an opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang and former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir, who recently made a statement on his blog to the effect that the press is useless as they are not allowed to report his responses except to twist his statements to make it look like he is supporting the current administration.
[Short post script: the censorship of Malaysia Today has met criticism from the ruling party's Khairy Jamaluddin, son-in-law of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. In the news report, Khairy, UMNO Youth's deputy chief, gives the impression that it was the MCMC's own “strategy” to block Malaysia Today. Meanwhile, Utusan Malaysia, a national language newspaper, has reported that Malaysia Today was blocked for religious issues, namely speaking ill of the Prophet Muhammad]