By WONG CHUN WAI
A report, quoting sources, about a plan by the new Information, Communication and Culture Ministry wanting to secure direct control over access to Internet content was enough to become world news.
It did not help that the report quoted unnamed sources as saying that the ministry wanted to focus on enforcement.
The world has changed and politicians had better be quick to adapt and accept the reality. Control has become a dirty word and they can be sure any proposal to put up an Internet filter or firewall will be greeted with disdain.
Kuala Lumpur is not Pyongyang, Myanmar or Beijing. Let’s not forget that when we set up the Malaysia Multimedia Super Corridor in the 1990s, the Government made a pledge to offer incentives and a promise there would be no Internet censorship.
We signed up Microsoft Corp and Cisco Corp System with investments worth RM1.6bil and the last thing Malaysia can afford is to have the arrangement reviewed.
We can’t afford any negative news when we are still struggling with the effects of the global crisis and competition from our neighbours. Our foreign direct investments stood at RM4.2bil for the first five months of this year against RM46bil last year.
The last thing we need would be politicians and officials making silly statements without taking into account the dire consequences, especially when the Prime Minister has announced major changes to make Malaysia attractive to investors.
On Friday, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak quickly came out with an assurance that the news reports were wrong and that the Government had no plans to impose any form of censorship. In short, he put out the fire quickly.
Minister Rais Yatim has also clarified that the ministry wanted to curb child pornography on the Net but the question is whether having an Internet filter system would be the best method.
Censorship is simply ineffective in a borderless world and would only serve to make the public angry. How many areas on the Internet can one control? Blocking websites and portals is one thing but how much resources can one extend to social networking mediums like Facebook and Twitter, which have also become communication tools?
The impression Malaysians get is that some of our politicians who put their foot into their mouths are computer illiterate and, at best, they can only send e-mail and read the blogs. But beyond that, they have not acquired the psyche of Netizens, especially the young.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has issued a statement to clarify that its study had been taken out of context and sensationalised.
The study on the filter was made in conjunction with the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day’s theme “Protecting Children in Cyberspace”, aimed at promoting positive Internet culture, especially the safety of our children.
With greater use of the Internet in Malaysia, a study was done to gain a better understanding of online fraud, identity theft and spam.
More importantly, MCMC explained that it merely talked about encouraging parents to instal a filter at home or for Internet Service Providers to enable users to download such tools.
These assurances are good but we are not sure whether they would be used by the world media as follow-up news. Most probably not, and we will end up being remembered for wanting to put up Internet filters.
With greater Internet usage over the next few years when proper broadband penetration is in place, there would be a need to plan a series of Internet campaigns for Malaysians – from educating Net users on child pornography and frauds to using the Net responsibly. Bloggers, news portals and media companies can work with the Government on such campaigns, which would be more effective in the long run.
As we deal with the new media, it is also time we look at the print and electronic media.
Laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act have become obsolete in the Internet age and for many media practitioners; it is unfair that newspapers have to be subjected to such laws when no permit is required to set up a website or blog.
Yearly permit renewals have become meaningless when it is much more effective and cheaper to set up a news portal against the costly business of newspapers.
The print media needs breathing space badly if it is to compete against the new media. As it is, print media companies are investing strongly to ready themselves for the changes ahead.
From setting up portals to equipping studios with facilities for online television, print companies with the financial resources are emerging as online publishers.
Questions on whether the print media would have a place in future could well be irrelevant as newspaper companies take on dual roles and exercise greater flexibility in providing the content.
Not only has the political and media landscape changed, the stake-holders must learn to respond and change too.
This is the age of information explosion and it is best that politicians learn to accept it.