Seeing no evil in Malaysia?

February 18, 2016

Seeing no evil in Malaysia?

by S.Thayaparan

“You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”

– John Morley, on compromise

COMMENT: Every day, more Gestapo-like tactics emanate from Putrajaya. The latest – and one I find particularly offensive – is this idea that netizens (sic) should practise self-censorship. This, of course, is the latest nonsense spewed by Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak.

In a blog post (which I hope nobody shares, or at the very least, mocks) he wrote, “It is impractical and difficult to monitor or control a user’s access to the mass amount of content found online.So it is left to us, the user, to exercise self-censorship and to verify all news shared over our social media feeds.”

Impractical? Not for our Twitter Marshal-cum-Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar who has warned that “I have directed the Police Cyber Investigation Response Centre (PCIRC) to monitor, detect and take action against those who abuse social media.”

There was a time when self-censorship was practiced by the mainstream media as some sort of misguided idea of nation-building – at least, that’s what they told us.

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad once said: “When I was the Prime Minister there was press freedom, but it is the media itself who did self-censorship, as if they didn’t want to hurt leaders’ feelings. This is the habit that we have in Malaysia.”

Which sounds civilised, as if the media was not operating under the possibility of the Internal Security Act or a history of state intervention into the so-called ‘Fourth Estate’.

Meanwhile, his daughter Marina Mahathir took a different view: “The problem with self-censorship that is rampant in this country, is that we anticipate what’s going to offend people, and we write around it.”

Writing around things has never really been my problem, although getting my work published by the mainstream media certainly was.

Furthermore it was reported that Marina said, while no reason had been given for the censorship of her articles, she “sympathised” with her editors’ problems as the situation was sometimes “ridiculous.”

Again, this is something I can relate to. I cannot speak for any other Malaysiakini writer but so far, nobody has advised me to self-censor.

Self-censorship is the most insidious kind of censorship, because its coerciveness becomes voluntary – this is how we become complicit in our own subjugation.Then again, self-censorship has a karma-like effect – especially here in Malaysia. This is best illustrated when Dr Mahathir bemoaned the fact that, “Soon after (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as PM), I was cut off from the press… reporters were not allowed to interview me… and they were not allowed to print anything I said.”

Remember Internet Blackout Day?

Indeed, the wily ex-premier understands the nature of the beast that the minions from Putrajaya, his former abode, would like to control.

Of course, the UMNO regime – so used to controlling information through news outlets – decided to wage war on the average Internet-connected citizen. Does anyone remember Malaysia’s Internet Blackout Day in 2012?

This was organised by Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and supported by various news outlets in response to the proposed amendment to Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950.

Just to refresh the memories of weary netizens, from the CIJ website and online petition: “The amendment, which has been passed by both Upper and Lower Houses, has wide-ranging reach and extends to practically everyone who uses any Internet platform – from email and social media, to blogs and online media. We oppose this amendment for these reasons:

  1. It presumes guilt rather than innocence which contradicts the basis of many justice systems. The newly-introduced Section 114(A) goes against the principle of presumption of innocence meant to protect individuals against wrongful conviction and check against abuse of power by the authorities.
  2. It makes Internet intermediaries – parties that provide online community forums, blogging and hosting services – liable for content that is published through its services. It can result in the removal of comment functions, which has a huge impact on the interactive nature of online media favoured by Malaysians.
  3. It threatens freedom of expression online because the assumption of guilt has the chilling effect of promoting fear amongst those who use the Internet as a vibrant, interactive space for democratic deliberations. It also reduces the spaces for posting legitimate comments and opinions.
  4. It allows hackers and cyber criminals to be free by making the person whose account computer is hacked liable for any content which might have changed. The more skilled you are at hacking, the more the law protects you by assuming the party being hacked is guilty of the offence.
  5. It reduces the opportunity to be anonymous online which is crucial in promoting a free and open Internet. This principle is particularly important to safeguard vulnerable individuals who depend on the anonymous nature of the Internet to protect themselves, eg. women in situations of domestic violence who may be at risk if they are identified. Anonymity is also indispensable to protect whistleblowers from persecution by the authorities when they expose abuses of power.
  6. The amendment is a bad law passed in haste and does not take into account public interest and participation.”

In other words, four years ago the idea that there would be consequences if people do not self-censor was already reflected in government policy. Never mind that the propaganda organs of UMNO are free to lie and spin for the government, this noxious idea that citizens should be controlled to the point that they should regulate themselves in the service of UMNO, is laughable and tragic.

It will never work, of course. UMNO is at war with itself, which is why the most sustained attacks from this regime come not for outside but within.

The ‘enemy’ has never been the ordinary citizen. The ordinary citizen has become disenfranchised from the political process because of the flawed electoral system. His or her vote does not matter in the end, but his or her words still matter.

They matter because if information spreads, ideas are disseminated – even if these ideas are based on dodgy reasoning, faulty arguments or just plain anger – and more people will come to the realisation that we have been hoodwinked.

And once people realise they have been short-changed, they will demand change. I am sure minions of the Najib regime dream of the reality of the Neuralizer from the Men in Black films, because in a flash of light all their sins would thus be forgotten.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd)

8 thoughts on “Seeing no evil in Malaysia?

  1. Najib has not sue WSJ even in Malaysia but Rakyat has to be scared about truth about their lies and obcenity?

    How then Rakyat do something about 1.5m Bangladeshi to steal THEIR citizenship because of Najib’s scandal?

  2. He and his teams maybe doing all the wrong things to this country but what he is saying about self -censorship and to verify about news given to you are the right things for us to observe otherwise sooner or later we are going to cause chaos to ourselves and our country by not restraining our emotions and believing in mere rumours to act.

  3. “….about self -censorship and to verify about news given to you are the right …”

    This is completely disingenuous. You counter “false” news by offering factual alternatives. The Najib/UMNO Regime is not interested in the truth. Not when their propaganda organs have admitted to lying and spinning. Not when Najib appoints his own men to resolve his political and pecuniary scandals and then lie about it. Not when this Regime creates laws in mala fide to contain scandals and coerce the Rakyat into nodding their heads to the JibRos tune.

  4. Conrad
    I like this blog because I think there are more mature and intellectual people commenting here.I notice Datuk Din and a few people people here who get upset on some people for commenting emotionally withought logical thoughts to what they are saying.

    The writer here was being emotional not rational by being critical of this minister even when he was saying somethings that make sense.If we are going to have the attitudes that everyting from the Government must be bad and everything from the other side must be good,we wont be able to transform this country to something better because we will always make our decisions base on emotions and politicians love these kind of supporters.If and when most of our citizens can think and evaluate what the politicians are saying,then only we can reform this country to something much better otherwise we only change the players but the result will be the same.

  5. “If we are going to have the attitudes that everyting from the Government must be bad and everything from the other side must be good,we wont be able to transform this country to something ”

    Abdul Jalil this is not what the writer is trying to promulgate. He is being factual when he writes that this corrupt Regime is attempting to silence all dissent and in this particular instant going after the ordinary citizen.

    He clearly states that self censorship is the worst form of censorship and that the purpose of which is not to stop lies but rather to stop the spreading of information detrimental to the survival of this Regime.

    Our friend Jalil sometimes he does know where he is coming from or going to. There is nothing good I can say about the present bunch of kleptocrats. Our Ministers are incompetent and corrupt– a lethal combination of “virtues” that have already soiled the soul of our nation. It is ridiculous to think that this Keruak fella has something useful to say that we can take seriously. He is a corrupt Sabah politician aka kera who is now a Federal Cabinet Minister. Self censorship is indeed the worst form of censorship.–Din Merican

  6. Those who think that any advice from any government to practice self-censorship, in cyberspace or printed media, “for the good of the country” are born three years ago.

    Without the Internet, Najib would have been the “best” PM of Malaysia for all time.

    BTW, how did the Sarawak Report got onto the trail of Jho Low which started all the subsequent investigations? The Email exchanges through the Internet platform. Of course Jho Low would want the SR to self-censor all these Emails.

    Just as it is better that ten guilty criminals got off the hook than for one innocent person to be convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, it is better that ten lies be told in Cyberspace than for one truth be self-censored and buried.

    So if one truth can catch a corrupt PM, any PM, then all the ten lies are a worthwhile price for any nation to pay. Nothing comes for free, especially if we want to “…be able to transform this country to something better….”

    There is one and only one way that any government can counter falsehoods in any media, and that is coming out with the truth itself. There is no need to monitor Cyberspace content and spend time and money to “catch” falsehoods. One truth and nothing but the truth from any government will kill 10,000 lies. The truth will set any government free. The problem is that governments are afraid of the truth.

    It is because governments themselves lie that is the root of the problem. And the biggest lie of all is that governments need to hide the truth from the people in order for the functions of State apparatus to be effectual. If this is true then governments that believe in this and citizens who swallow this are governing and being governed by false pretenses.

    It seems that some people here are quite happy with this.

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