Bob Paquin on Tue, 18 May 1999 20:22:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Malaysia


Dear Nettimers,

The following appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, for those interested in the
Malaysian situation.



Reformasi Through Other Channels

Bob Paquin

The Malaysian government of Mahathir Mohamad may have silenced former Deputy
Premier Anwar Ibrahim - convicted last month of corruption and sentenced to six
years in prison - but thanks to the Internet and other electronic media
channels, Mr. Anwar's message of reform continues to be being heard throughout
the country.

The fact that Malaysian citizens have been able to obtain relatively unbiased
news on the Anwar trial and the "reformasi" campaign exemplifies the increasing
difficulty governments have in managing the flow of information 
within their borders - even when they control the major print and broadcast
media. Within days of Mr. Anwar's arrest, offshore Web sites sprouted by the
dozen, offering a combination of news, analysis and essays, and serving as 
repositories for press statements and letters from prison from Mr. Anwar

Reformasi News ( provides
a daily listing of breaking news, and includes the following statement: "The
aim of this Web site is to allow Malaysians to receive news related to 
the reformasi movement which is not freely available in our local media,
especially news articles from international news agencies and Southeast Asian

"Because Malaysians are not confident of the independence of our local media
and that its coverage is clearly guided by forces that intend to abuse the
principles of justice and fairness, it is only sources from outside our country
that can be relied upon to give a relatively more independent perspective of
this important issue."

In addition to the Internet, video compact disks (VCDs) and CD-ROMs depicting
various elements of the reformasi movement have been making the rounds of

One hour-long VCD, entitled Laungan Reformasi (The Call For Reformation),
highlights a number of Mr. Anwar's speeches, as well as portions of the press
conference he was conducting just before the black-masked, tactical police unit
stormed his house and led him off to secret detention. 

"The most moving as well as tension-filled sequences are those of the troops
entering his house," writes Stephen Tan, reviewing the disc for BigO, a
Singapore-based arts and culture magazine.  "Like Jesus at Gethsemane, Mr.
Anwar knew it was only a matter of time before the police took action, as he
was seen as a threat to the establishment." 

The VCD also includes footage of the massive popular riots, taken from foreign
news broadcasts and private video recordings, as well as coverage of tear gas,
water cannons and widespread police brutality.  At around $8, the VCD, and a
cheaper CD-ROM version, are selling like hotcakes throughout Malaysia's bazaars
and night markets.  The VCD ends with a statement that the disk is not
copyrighted, and asks that it be duplicated and circulated as widely as

Tragedi Seorang Pejuang (Tragedy Of A Warrior), a three-hour videotape culled
from news reports from Australia's ABC News, and a CD-ROM Ensiklopedia
Reformasi (The Comprehensive And Exclusive Encyclopedia Of Reformation), are
also being widely circulated.  Both retail for under $10.  Ironically, the fact
Malaysians are in a position to make use of digital media reports is due in
large part to the government's efforts to transform the country into a kind of
information technology (IT) Mecca.

Over the last few years, fueled by a decade of double-digit growth, Malaysia
has been witness to a series of bold investments in its infrastructure,
including the construction of a cross-country highway, the world's tallest
building, a state-of-the-art airport, and a soon-to-be-completed new capital

The jewel in prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's crown, however, was to be the
Multimedia Super Corridor, a swath of land hewn out of the jungle, and
transformed into the world's latest Silicon Valley upstart.

Until the Asian financial crisis hit, the project was going surprisingly well. 
Bill Gates and Microsoft were among those promising to build R&D facilities,
locate regional headquarters and produce goods within this wired village.

The financial crisis and the Anwar trial changed all that.  The trees have been
levelled and some of the data pipes have been laid, but most of the potential
investors have delayed or cancelled their plans for the region.

Nonetheless, the emphasis on an IT future, coupled with years of increased
consumer spending, has created a widely shared taste for the latest in
technological gadgets, including Internet connectivity and VCDs.  Mr. Anwar,
who was the designated successor to Mr. Mahathir, claims his sacking and arrest
last September came as he was about to reveal a maze of corruption that reached
to the very top of the Malaysian government.

Through Mr. Anwar's seven-month trial, hundreds of thousands of Malaysian
citizens and several western governments, including Canada's, strenuously
objected to the perceived lack of impartiality and transparency in the trial's

Mr. Mahathir has responded by regularly castigated Western press reports on the
case as biased attacks on the Malaysian government, and as renewed attempts by
Western powers to impose colonialism on his country.

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