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Abdullah should fully consult with all political parties and the civil society before “out-Mahathiring Mahathir” by launching a crackdown on Internet freedom – marking the death knell of his reform pledges
Just a day earlier, Zainuddin had been campaigning for the control of the Internet and websites “to curb the spread of rumours and news that can harm racial unity in the country”.
This was two days after Zainuddin had issued a “declaration of war” against the printed media, declaring that there was never a “honeymoon” period for press freedom after Abdullah became Prime Minister and accused two “mainstream newspapers” of abusing their “freedom”.
He claimed that the government had already collected ample evidence concerning two local newspapers which “undermine the credibility of Islam as the official religion and the rights of all communities as contained in the Federal Constitution”, raised the spectre of May 13 and the possibility of another “Operation Lalang”, and warned that the government “means business” and “will not tolerate” the media which “inflame communalism and religious issues”.
Has Abdullah’s position become so weakened from recent developments, particularly the challenge mounted by his predecessor Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, that he has so easily succumbed to the hardline proposals of Zainuddin – starting with action against Internet websites and blogs if not yet against the printed media, particularly the two specifically targeted by the Information Minister?
Abdullah said that the spread of malicious comments and rumours could affect peace and harmony in the country and make the people, including investors, lose faith in the economy and development programmes.
The Prime Minister seems to have moved in a matter of a few days from consistency and constancy with the 10-year government commitment to the global community of “No Internet Censorship” and advising printed media that they do not have to emulate Internet websites to the Zainuddin hardline of Internet censorship.
Abdullah said that the spreading of malicious comments and rumours could affect peace and harmony in the country and undermine public confidence as to cause the people, including investors, to lose faith in the economy and development programmes.
He should realize that more harm could be caused by panic reactions which reflect an inability or unpreparedness to deal with the dynamics and demands of an information society and knowledge economy as well as to fulfill his own pledges in the past 33 months to head a clean, open, accountable, transparent, trustworthy, democratic, just administration which is prepared to hear the truth.
Zainuddin’s claim that the mainstream media had gained credibility because of the laws making them responsible for what they published must stand out as the most outrageous Ministerial statement of the year.
The editors of the mainstream media would be the first to challenge the veracity of Zainuddin’s claim about the credibility of their muzzled media, although they would not dare to do so publicly - or they would not have complained to the authorities about the “double standards” under which they have to operate as compared to online media.
The solution however is not to extent the muzzle to the online media but to free the printed media from censorship as by the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the removal of repressive provisions like the annual licensing requirement for the press.
Abdullah should pause and ponder before giving the “green light” for Zainuddin’s hardline crackdown on online media, websites and blogs, as he would then be breaking Mahathir’s 10-year Multimedia Super Corridor Bill of Guarantees of “No Internet Censorship” and even “out-Mahathiring Mahathir” in resorting to hardline media censorship measures which had never been used by Mahathir during his premiership, i.e. censorship, control and crackdown on Internet media, websites and blogs.
Abdullah should fully consult with all political parties and the civil society before “out-Mahathiring Mahathir” by launching a crackdown on Internet freedom to model websites and blogs after the mainstream media which will mark the death knell for his reform pledges.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman