Steve Cisler on Thu, 9 Mar 2000 05:26:34 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Malaysian Media and the Net

I'm in Kuala Lumpur at the Global Knowledge II conference sponsored by the
Malaysians and the Global Knowledge Partnership (World Bank, Canadian
government, UNDP, and dozens of other groups doing overseas development

One of the developments this week has been some  government intereference in
web-based information that comes from the opposition party. They are not
allowed to update their web site newspaper any more often than is allowed in
print: every two weeks.  However, the Mahathir's party site has
up-to-the-minute changes.  This seems to be in conflict with the hands-off
policy the government has had in order to attract high tech businesses that
want an open Internet environment. Previously, there was a big difference in
the way traditional media was licensed and who/what could go on the
Internet. By and large, it still is.

The Prime Minister gave a keynote yesterday at the conference where he
called for Malaysia to be a K-economy (knowledge) as part of Strategic
Initiative One which will 'remake Malaysian corporations and reinvent
society". He also commented on the wake up call at the WTO in Seattle for
'those living in a global fairy land' and even used Jim Hightower's buzzword
"globaloney." At the same time the government is starting to enforce a 1967
language act that requires domestic business documents to be in Bahasa
Malaysia and not just English (or Chinese).

And that's one reason why Malaysia is so interesting: the technical,
political, and societal forces that are clashing in an increasingly
networked environment.

Steve Cisler
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2000

----- Original Message -----
From: McKenzie Wark <>
To: Nettime List <>
Sent: Monday, March 06, 2000 2:41 PM
Subject: <nettime> Malaysian Media and the Net

> from: Monday, 6th March
> Mahathir caught in his own web of virtual freedom
> William de Cruz
> Malaysia's leader never thought his IT baby would grow up like
> this, writes William de Cruz.
> FREEDOM of expression is alive, well and rampant in Malaysia,
> where Dr Mahathir Mohamad rules with an iron hand over
> mainstream press freedom. The delicious irony is that we should
> thank Dr M himself, for giving ordinary Malaysians the space
> within which to exercise their democratic right.
> It's all happening within the reach of the World Wide Web, and the
> development is the result of the doctor's own prescriptions for his
> country to get IT, get the Internet, get rich.
> Dr M is even building for Malaysians their superhighway - his
> brainchild, the Multimedia Super Corridor, will be without equal in
> the world, according to some.
> A pro-Government mainstream media is now shamefully exposed,
> entrenched under a control system that includes Dr M, his
> governing coalition, legislation that his parliamentary majority will
> rewrite at will, and senior politicians with links to media
> ownership.
> But on Malaysia's Web, hard-hitting exposes, unabashedly
> anti-Government tirades, thoughtful pro-Opposition analyses and
> more are all being widely published every day.
> Malaysia's pro-government media entrepreneurs are watching as
> newspaper circulation and advertising revenue take a beating. On
> the other side, dots make the picture complete, and Web pages such
> as, and show that the
> Government no longer has absolute control over the flow of
> information.
> In Sydney, where press freedom may often be taken for granted, two
> senior Malaysian media practitioners spoke recently with rare
> candour to an international gathering of journalists.
> At a Sydney University conference, Media and Democratisation in
> the Asia Pacific, one Malaysian told the gathering: "I'd like to say,
> 'We can do what we want. We are free.' But you may not believe
> me. We have to live with the constraints of ownership, regulation,
> government and politics." The speaker was Hng Hung-Yong, who
> recently vacated his position as CEO of the pro-government daily
> The Sun.
> Later, Rose Ismail, associate editor of The New Straits Times,
> another pro-Dr M daily, said: "My Prime Minister will not be happy
> to hear this, but some of us do look to our Australian counterparts
> for standards and benchmarks."
> The truth is, at least since the jailing of former deputy prime
> minister and finance minister Anwar Ibrahim, senior journalists
> and media owners need only to look within Malaysia itself for
> examples of courageous journalism by ordinary citizens.
> To be fair, it was never easy in Malaysia's mainstream media circles.
> Only last Wednesday, the bi-weekly Harakah newspaper, owned by
> an Opposition party, was told it would be able to publish only two
> editions a month.
> Crowning the country's media control mechanism has been the
> stranglehold of a legislative triumvirate - the OSA, ISA and PPPA
> (respectively, the Official Secrets Act, Internal Security Act and
> Printing, Presses & Publications Act) - which tell the big boys and
> girls they may lose their publishing or broadcast licence, job, bank
> balance, peace of mind and even freedom at the discretion of the
> Government.
> To lose any or all of the above under the PPPA, your publishing
> action need only be defined as one that "is in any manner
> prejudicial to, or likely to be prejudicial to, public order, morality,
> security".
> Detention without trial under the ISA, the sweeping power of the
> OSA and the practice of allowing the Home Minister (nearly always
> the Prime Minister) to define "prejudicial" has long cultivated an
> atmosphere of fear and intimidation while placing incredible power
> in the hands of one man.
> It has also helped spread the contagion of self-censorship, and
> journalistic restraint has become an ignoble art form in the hands of
> newspapers and state-controlled radio and TV.
> In the lead-up to Malaysia's last national polls in November 1999,
> Opposition parties were only ever portrayed in negative light,
> advertising space was not theirs to buy with mere money and
> scandalous allegations surrounding their leaders, their policies and
> the incarcerated Anwar proliferated with zealous excess.
> But life is what happens to you when you are busy making other
> plans, as John Lennon wrote. Mahathir is realising his own IT
> dream, and the Malaysian Web is publishing anything considered
> "unfit to print" by the mainstream media.
> Journalistic freedom in Malaysia, however, is more than a prize; as
> surely as Dr M watches his brainchild become a nemesis, a price is
> also paid when people are free to post incorrect information,
> ill-informed comment and even untruth on the Web.
> Yet, Web propaganda and misinformation are not as much of a
> threat to the full picture as one might imagine. All Malaysians are
> now free to promote any propaganda through this medium, in a
> country where the Government previously exercised exclusive
> rights to press excess.
> Sydney's Bala Pillai, who set up, one of the earlier Web
> sites that reflect this newfound freedom, says: "On the Internet,
> there is a chance to correct misleading information, and sites that
> repeatedly push this soon lose their credibility." In other words,
> everybody's free on the Net, where no-one is free from being
> proved wrong or outed as a purveyor of lies and propaganda.
> Mahathir never thought his IT baby would grow up like this. The
> Malaysian visionary never thought he would give virtual freedom
> to Malaysia.
> William de Cruz worked for Malaysia's The New Straits Times
> between 1978 and 1990. He is now a NSW public servant and a
> freelance Sydney journalist.
> from
> __________________________________________
> "We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
>  -- McKenzie Wark
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