February 18, 2016
Seeing no evil in Malaysia?
“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)