07 April, 2007

MALAYSIA: Internet, bloggers beyond govt control

In Malaysia, the internet is proving beyond the control of the government - unlike the mainstream media. In recent months a number of ministers, including prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, have lashed out at bloggers, accusing them of lying and nurturing chaos within the community.


Presenter/Interviewer: Katie Hamann in Jakarta

Speakers: Nila Tanzil, travel show host on Indonesian channel SCTV; Marina Mahathir, daughter of former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad; Wimar Witoelar, Indonesian blogger and media personality; Susan Loone, Indonesian(?) blogger.


HAMANN: With a catchy jingle and glossy advertisements, Malaysia is this year promoting itself as a beacon of Asian hospitality. But as Nila Tanzil, the host of a popular travel show on Indonesian channel SCTV, discovered, visitors to Malaysia must be careful with what they write home about, particularly if they post it on the internet.

TANZIL: We were invited by the Malaysian Tourism Board to promote Malaysia for the Visit Malaysia 2007. And we were there for five days and when we got there they gave us an itinerary. But then in some of the places couldn't shoot anything. I asked them to give me a simple letter stating that they invited us, but then they said that they needed two weeks time to write such a letter. We just felt a bit frustrated, so I expressed my opinion and my observation in my blog.

HAMANN: Nila Tanzil says her comments were intended as constructive criticism but responding last month Malaysia's tourism minister and the political face of the Visit Malaysia campaign Datuk Seri Tengki Adnan Mansor lashed out at bloggers, labelling them liars and accusing them of stirring racial tension. Quoted by a local newspaper, he added that "from my understanding, out of 10,000 unemployed bloggers, 8,000 are women." Unfortunately for the minister the comments were made on International Women's Day, sparking outrage from women's rights activists and bloggers such as Marina Mahathir, daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.

MARINA MAHATHIR: So he's just reacting to criticism in the manner of a person not used to criticism, particularly from a woman, so I think there's some sexist element to that.

HAMANN: Minister Adnan has since claimed he was misquoted by the paper, saying he loves women and was only referring to a certain Indonesian blogger. His comments reflect the Malaysian governments growing unease with the blogosphere. Increasingly emboldened, Malaysia's blogging community have been filling their pages with criticism of the government and revelations of corruption. Marina Mahathir says bloggers are delving into areas left untouched by mainstream outlets.

MARINA MAHATHIR: Oh I think they're very sensitive right now because of the stuff that's coming out of the blogs. I mean if you read the blogs and you read the mainstream media there is a clear difference or clear gap between what's reported on the blogs and what's reported in the mainstream papers. Some things are simply not appearing in the mainstream papers which leads people to question why.

HAMANN: The limits to this freedom are presently being tested in Malaysia's courts. In January the government affiliated New Straits Times newspaper group filed defamation suits against two Malaysian bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin Attan for posting criticisms of several of the papers executives. The action has inspired bloggers from around the world to launch an online campaign under the banner 'Bloggers United', which is calling for a boycott of the New Straits Times newspaper. Susan Loone is a Malaysian blogger and a co-ordinator of Bloggers United. She says Malaysia's 11 million internet users are relying increasingly on blogs for their news.

LOONE: Those who read blogs very days and those who are on the internet and read online news - I think they do believe blogs because more and more blogs are actually exposing stories which are later picked up by the newspapers, sort of confirming what happens on the blog. Because that has happened I think people do believe blogs.

HAMANN: In Indonesia Wimar Witoelar former spokesman for President Abdurrahman Wahid, now working as a public relations consultant says blogs are the new frontier for advancing democracy and that Malaysia's government should be more sophisticated in its response to bloggers.

WIMAR WITOELAR: So I think they should learn a lesson from this and not exacerbate the problem by conducting unpopular action against these bloggers. Nila Tanzil was unknown until she invited reaction from the public officials and she should be happy to get such a publicity. I'm just astounded at how unwise these public officials were. I mean, there was a problem, maybe a small problem in one area of this journalist's activities and Nila reported the problem. They should fix the problem and see whether the accusation is true of not. Instead of just shooting the person who brought the bad news.(Source)

-ABC Radio Australia

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