Blogs trump press controls

If you care about Malaysia, you already read Jeff Ooi’s excellent blog, Screenshots. For those of you who don’t know, Ooi is a photojournalist and a champion of press freedom — which you don’t find much in Malaysia. The lesson is that when the government-muzzled newspapers and TV news fail to report a story, the story is not erased from the world but can go on to be told via bloggers and their uncontrollable* blogs.

The example from Ooi (March 10, 2006) is this: Fuel price hikes have mobilized ordinary Malaysians, who turned out (as clearly shown in photos posted to Ooi’s blog) to protest the increases.

The Malaysian government uses a variety of subtle tactics, such as phone calls to top editors, to keep the press in line. The argument is that it would be catastrophic to stir up the emotions of the rakyat, the public. This is the attitude of a paternalistic system, in which hiding or masking the truth is considered better than having an informed electorate.

* That is not to say that there is no attempt to control blogs in Malaysia.

In February [2005], Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) considered banning three websites purportedly publishing information that could confuse Muslims in the country. Also in February, blogger Jeff Ooi was called to give a statement to the police on an allegedly blasphemous remark posted by a reader on his weblog Screenshots in October 2004. In March, another blogger Mack Zulkifli was “interviewed” for three hours by a four-member team from the authorities pertaining to his blog titled Brandmalaysia.

Source: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM, 2005). Malaysia: Civil and Political Rights Report, Executive Summary (PDF file).

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