21 May, 2007

Malaysia’s Special Freedom Zone

An Excerpt from M Sakri Musa reply to Din Merican.in Blogging: Malaysia’s Special Freedom Zone (Exchanges With Din Merican)

In 1978 Deng Xiaoping, in thinking of ways to rebuild his country after the disastrous Mao decades, came upon the idea of Special Economic Zones to nudge his stagnant communist country into the modern economy. From that early seed grew today’s modern China, with capitalism now embracing the whole nation and with that, a quantum leap in the well being of its citizens. China is today only nominally communist, or as Deng would wickedly put it with a wink in his eye, communism with Chinese characteristics!

I look upon blogging specifically and the Information Technology (IT) generally as Malaysia’s Special Freedom Zones. From this seed would sprout greater freedom in other, and ultimately all, spheres of Malaysian life. At least that is my hope. Unlike China’s Special Economic Zones that took decades to have their impact on the rest of the country, Malaysia’s Special Freedom Zone will exert its influence much more rapidly.

Unlike China’s Special Economic Zone which was a deliberate official policy, Malaysia’s Special Freedom Zone was an unintended (at least by the authorities) consequence of the country’s eagerness to embrace IT. Prime Minister Mahathir, who spearheaded this, grudgingly accepted this trade off. Even today, despite the obvious personal benefits to him after being shut off by the mainstream media once he was out of power, Mahathir still has second thoughts about granting this freedom. It matters not as the genie is now out of the bottle.

Mahathir may not realize it, but his granting freedom to the IT sector may well be his greatest and most enduring legacy. There is no stopping this movement towards greater freedom; the metaphorical Berlin Wall that blocks access to information in Malaysia is now broken. It cannot be put together again. On the contrary, the momentum of the wreckage will break down other barriers.

Bernama bragged about getting half a million hits a day on its website because of its coverage of the Perak royal wedding. Bernama editors obviously had not looked at Malaysia-Today’s figures. The Star and New Straits would drool at figures a tiny fraction of MT’s! No wonder Michael Backman named Raja Petra among the Top 20 Asian Progressives!

The blogs’ influence will expand and be even more powerful. This is reflected in the declining circulation, readership and influence of the mainstream papers; they are fast being reduced to irrelevance. NST is today nothing more than an UMNO newsletter. It is noteworthy that Ahiruddin Atan is now more widely read and influential than when he was with the mainstream media. Raja Petra’s aggressive investigative journalism reduces the mainstream journalists to sophomore reporters.

The authorities are forced to respond however ineptly to issues raised by bloggers, from Abdullah absconding to Perth during the devastating Johore floods to his ordering a luxury corporate jet. The threat to register bloggers reflects this increasing reach; likewise with mega libel lawsuits. These lawsuits will be futile. As can be seen, with skillful lawyers these lawsuits can backfire on the plaintiffs. Thanks to court filings, we now know of other instances of plagiarisms.

Even if the suits were successful, they would be meaningless. All they would do is to make people use pseudonyms, Internet cafés, work on-line, and use overseas servers.

Even China is not successful with reining in the Internet. Whatever success it has is through the unwilling help of IT companies. Those companies are now being sued in California by Chinese nationals who had been detained by the Chinese, allegedly based on information provided by those companies.

However, as Raja Petra rightly noted, we need to go further. The Abdullah Administration must be humbled, and the only way is through the ballot box. I am with Raja Petra on this: vote any opposition party. You do not need to defeat the government in order to teach it a useful lesson. Look at Bush with the recent midterm elections; Abdullah too is teachable.

We must bring out the jantans in our voters to impart the lesson to Abdullah. To get rid of him however, we must encourage if not instigate the jantans in UMNO, if there are any left.

May they, and Malaysia, have continued success.

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