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By Jay Jay Denis

Online censorship - gov't shooting itself in the foot

When a line is crossed too often, there will come a time when it will cease to exist and it will become second nature for ‘trampling’ to take place. This is in light of Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s comments yesterday on the possibility of the government mimicking Singapore to regulate news portals.

Just last week, copies of the opposition's news weeklies were confiscated by the Home Affairs Ministry, which is headed by none other than the ever-brilliant and gung-ho Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. The online media then, seems to have been the only alternative for people to get news which may seem unbiased, if anything.

The printed media is brilliant where you have newspapers getting away with ‘daylight lies’ and at times, it does feel as though they do not have proofreaders, looking to jump the gun more often than not.

According to the Printing Presses and Publications Act, “The minister may in his absolute discretion grant or refuse any application for such licence or may at any time revoke or suspend such licence for any period he considers desirable”.

What this actually means is, there is no consistency regarding decisions made by that ministry as at any given time, the decision is up to his or her discretion.

On Sept 18, 2011, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak stated that he intends to make Malaysia “the world’s best democracy”. A year and a half later, people can judge for themselves on whether his statement was all talk and no walk, or otherwise.

International press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders stated this year that Malaysia is ranked 145th out of 179 countries in terms of press freedom. Being ranked behind countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Libya is not something to be extremely proud of, with all due respect.

This points to the influence of the powers that be on the now nearly defunct mainstream media, with the online media taking its place. The propaganda spewed by the likes of infamous dailies - such as The Star and Utusan Malaysia - have long been way out of line. Such a thing has forced the hands of citizens to hunt for an alternative to get an aspect of what is actually happening.

Social media trumps printed media?

Nonetheless, social media has also played a great deal in delivering news and the virality it possesses is definitely greater than that of the printed media.

Having said that, here we have a possibility that the government is looking to control the news portals that many Malaysians have grown accustomed to when they start their day. It is more likely that people turn on their nifty little gadgets in the morning to get a grasp of the news rather than heading to a newsstand to get a copy of the government-controlled newspapers.

But hang on a minute. That might now be close to impossible if a plan is in the pipeline to put a straightjacket on people to get access to news which concerns them. The thought of relying on the television, radio and newspapers not only lends the idea of going back to the stone age, but being lied to again?

In a contemporary period, not many people are going to be at all pleased with such a move by a government which doesn’t even have the majority support of its people.

Ahmad Shabery should think very carefully as he’s walking a tightrope here. If he leaves it as it is, Umno-BN will still be lashed by the people if it does not improve. Impose a draconian law, and the people will definitely take them to the cleaners.

If the reformation Najib is spewing every week is anything, then he should heed the advice of people, not those around him, but those who did not vote for him. It may sound ridiculous, but Najib has work to do to win back the support from the people because I’m not sure as to how much support he has inside Umno.

Martin Luther King, Jr  went around saying that “an unjust law is no law at all”, the idea for which was started by St Augustine of course. Suffocating people by denying them access to online news portals is akin to shooting themselves in the foot. If the government does not want the Merdeka Square to turn into a Speaker’s Corner, listen to the people. Malaysians are peace-loving people.