Freedom of speech or is it blatant abuse of Internet as a channel for expression? Come over to Malaysia.
Just as the Singaporean government was hauling in three bloggers within a week and charging them under the Sedition Act, Malaysian bloggers are getting equally jittery over seditious commentaries being posted by readers in their blogs, and over their potential legal ramifications.
September 14, blogger Jeff Ooi, who was threatened with imprisonment without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA) last October for a seditious remark on Islam left by a reader, responded to the Singapore incident by mooting the idea of “defensive blogging”. He quoted an excerpt of “Guide for bloggers and cyberdissident”, which will be released in full by Reporters Without Borders on September 22. The guideline is to inform bloggers how to “set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles”.
In a nutshell, Malaysia's cyberlaw has stated prominently that…
The Online environment is not a legal vacuum. In general, if something is illegal “off-line”, it will also be illegal “on-line”. In this matter, the relevant existing laws apply.
There is, apparently, a reason for some widely-read blogs like Screenshots and BrandMalaysia to start talking about upholding the Social Responsibility of Internet and Online Content aggregators, way before the Singapore incidents erupted. They both pointed to the guidelines included in the Content Code, which is an extension of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
Apparently, “good man” had written a seditious message in the commentaries section of Peter’ blog while he was attending an on-site seminar for the disabled, and was disconnected from Internet for several days. While criticising the Muslim-Malays in Malaysia for being responsible for myriad social ills, “good man” also urged Malaysia's major ethnic community, who are also known as “princes of earth” (bumiputra) to return to their historical homeland in Indonesia.
When Peter was alerted by a friend of the offensive commentary, Peter, who is a paraplegic, had to get his web-host to shut down his blog as he could only attend to the matter after completing the seminar.
On the same day Peter Tan went frontpage, blogger MackZukifli's blog commentary section was also delivered a seditious message of similar nature.
Related to that, political blog Politics101Malaysia reported of other weblogs that had been spammed by similar troll. The victims included parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang, who also blogs, quicktopic, and other forums.
September 17, both Peter and MackZulkifli (www.brandmalaysia.com) lodged police reports against “good man”, furnishing the IP address of the culprit to the police so that they could nab him. Peter said: “If this (offensive commentaries by blog readers) is allowed to go unchecked, it will give a negative impression of bloggers.”
MackZulkifli took it a step further:
Screenshots and Brand New Malaysian have repeatedly spoken about gathering a form of collective thoughts and compiling it into a manifesto, that will table out ethical considerations for bloggers, perhaps like the one that I try to impose here. We are in the midst of planning a seminar cum workshop with related bodies and will be inviting corporate bodies to participate as well. Our aim is to come out with a self-imposed set of ‘ethical considerations’ that may be the catalyst to wider positive interactions and conversations online.
It is not known what action the authorities will take subsequent to the police reports. Nevertheless, it indicates that bloggers in Malaysia are taking pre-emptive strike to prevent the Singapore crackdown from spilling over into Malaysia.
Nevertheless, there are obvious voices of dissent. One blog reader says:
Blog-owners should not make police reports or invoke laws which are subjective and liable to be abused against contributors. I can accept that they be law-abiding citizens and help the police should the police approach them. But to make police reports and disclose IP addresses voluntarily are conduct for which I have little respect.
Also read: Singapore cracks down on bloggers