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Why Dato’ Sri Shabery Really wants to censor the internet

[box icont=”chat’]The social media in Malaysia is being monitored and existing laws are sufficient to weed out troublemakers trying to test the limits of free speech, Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said today…

“The laws that we make are not to defend the party alone – that’s wrong,” Ahmad Shabery, who is also an Umno supreme council member, said.

In an attempt to curb internet freedom in Malaysia, the government is beginning a series of concerted statements to signal that internet censorship in Malaysia is merely a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. Previously I’ve explored why internet censorship doesn’t alleviate or even mitigate the risk of communal violence, yet the government still presses on with trying to censor the internet, apparently jumping on the opportunity of Alvivi to make their case stronger.

So why is the government so enamoured by the thought of internet censorship, when clearly it doesn’t work?

The answer I believe can be found in 2008, specifically August 28th 2008, the day when the Malaysian government decided to violate it’s own MSC Bill of Guarantees and censor the internet. On the evening of that fateful day, the government via the MCMC issued an order to all local Internet Service Providers (ISP) to block a popular but controversial website. Now we’d like to think that this website somehow was deliberately stoking the flames of hatred, by either :

1. Questioning the special positions of Malays. Well no it wasn’t, in fact, the website itself was written by a Malay man.

2. Questioning Islam as the official religion of Malaysia. Once again, it wasn’t. In fact, it was written by a devout Muslim.

3. Questioning the legitimacy of the Malay Rulers. Far from it…in fact, it was written by the member of the Selangor royal Family.

4. Questioning the use of Bahasa Malaysia. Nowhere on the website was this even raised as an issue.

Instead the website was exposing corruption at the highest levels of government, it did what many were afraid to do in 2008–it criticized government policy and even accused high ranking government officials (and their wives) of blatant law-breaking. It was this fresh take on citizen blogging that made the website so popular, the fact that it was written by a member of the Royal family, made it even more interesting–almost scandalous.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the website in question was MalaysiaToday, written by Malaysia’s most popular blogger at the time–RPK.

The moral of the story though is that internet censorship wasn’t used to protect the position of Malays, the position of Islam, the sovereignty of the Malay Rulers or even the use of Bahasa Malaysia–it was used to protect the political survival of the ruling political party. Barisan Nasional of course is not an outlier, in nearly every country where citizens cede control of the media to the government, that government abuses the control given for its political agenda. The power over the media is just too tempting a power for politicians to use fairly. We even see hints with Pakatan, with Lim Guan Eng barring Utusan journalist from covering his functions–similar bans are in place for Malaysiakini reporters at certain BN functions as well–do we really want to cede control to politicians who feel it their right to deny access to the media, and by extension the readers of that media outlet.

So why then does Dato’ Sri Shabery Cheek wish to censor the internet– I’m not going to hypothesize here, but if they used it for political purposes in 2008, what makes us certain that they somehow won’t abuse it in 2013?

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