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The day they censored me

internet censorship

Last week was a pretty exciting week for me–it was my first time on TV.

A TV show called VBuzz that was hosted on a Astro Channel 231 called me to be a guest to talk about Cyber Security, obviously I make it point to try new things and let’s be honest….how many of you would turn down a chance to be on TV? I mean this is Television, if you’re on it you must be good right?! Even if it is a Tamil channel, and it’s on at 9pm, I thought this would be exicting…and it was!

Anyway, they scheduled me in for a show on Tuesday, and I happily took some time off work to go down to their studio and all was really great. Until….

The first thing they told me was that I couldn’t talk about the recent MAS hack, because they were afraid. The Obvious question I had was–afraid of what? Apparently, MAS was a Government Linked Company, and they couldn’t talk bad about a GLC for fear of losing their license. Now I had no intention of talking bad about MAS, just trying to help people understand what happened in the hack, but they were still afraid. So OK, you can still have a 15 minute conversation about cyber security without talking about MAS…no problem.

So I got my ‘HD’ make-up on, because High Definition recording captures so much detail of your face, that they need special make-up for it. I found that quite amusing, plus I never knew so much effort and co-ordination went into making a production like this.

We started off with ‘easy’ topics like cyber criminals and hacking incidences, and the conversation was light and flowed pretty well, but then (according to plan) we veered into cyber warfare, which was a topic I was deeply into over the last few weeks. And out pop-ed a question like “What can governments do to ….” to which I responded that “Governments were the biggest perpretators of the crime“. This didn’t sit well with the producers or the writers, and at the end of the show we did a re-take of that bit, censoring out a my statement, which I maintained wasn’t just true, but totally consistent with the entire show.

At the top of the show, the host themselves talked about how Chinese Government would begin to block VPN access within their borders,  literally telling everyone “You have to reduce the security of your internet connection so that we can spy on you“, in other words the Chinese government was making a secure internet connection illegal.

This of course is no different to what David Cameron is hawking around, that the UK government needs backdoors to software so that “Terrorist will not have a safe-haven to communicate”. Unfortunately,that also means no one else will have safe-havens to communicate in, including ordinary non-terrorist citizens. Plus, I wonder how Mr. Cameron feels if the Chinese, Russians or Saudis asked Twitter, Whatsapp and Facebook for the back doors he’s been hoping for.

And let’s not even begin with how the US Government has it’s wholesale spy program on just about every damn person on the internet, or talk about our own government with their kangkung censorship and spying program.

So coming back to this, all I said was that “Governments were the biggest perpetrators of the crime”, they are the ones pushing for less security online–and my statement didn’t go into the details I presented, so I didn’t name ‘The’ government, I didn’t even name ‘a’ government. Yet, the people over at Astro saw it fit to censor out my statement because they were afraid of the censor board, and afraid (quite rightly I think) of having their license revoked. They’re a small company, so they need to be a bit careful, and to protect the jobs of the people who work there, they err on the side of caution.

BUT……here’s where I got a shocker.

When I digged deeper, they said “We have to abide by the law”. To which I probed further by asking “Which Law?”

Brace yourself for this one.

I was told that this was an ‘Unspoken Law’, that nothing bad can be said about ‘The’ Government, or even ‘a’ Government, not even the concept of any ‘Government’.

AN UNSPOKEN LAW??!!

You’re censoring a statement of mine, because there’s an ‘unspoken law’ that you can’t criticize ANY government. You’re removing a factually accurate, perfectly consistent dialog because of an unspoken law?

At that point, this went from government censorship to self-censorship, because the media chooses to censor itself so as not to step on the wrong toes, but it’s a choice that the media makes rather than something mandated by law. There’s a huge difference.

But asking around, apparently this is how the media operates in Malaysia. That anyone who says anything bad about the government is liable to have their license revoked, or face criminal charges. And license revocation usually includes a shutdown of the station/magazine, and a loss of jobs for the cari makan people working in them.

And me sitting on my high and mighty horse, didn’t fully appreciate the ‘sensitivities’ and the ‘realities’ of operating a media outlet in Malaysia.

But if the traditional media operates under such restrictions, how can we trust them? How can we trust them to criticize the government if the government were truly at fault, and if they never criticize the government, how can we be sure that they’re telling the fully story, which is their purpose and function?

For example consider the Selangor water crisis, it’s an issue where the State Government is blaming the Federal Government, and vice-versa. Most likely both governments are partially responsible, but the issue lies with them. If you’re a media outlet, trying to help your audience make sense of the issue, how is that possible if these restrictions are in place. No wonder the discussions about this, very quickly move into the usually dull advice like “Take shorter showers” or flush your toilet less.

No wonder Malaysians are gravitating towards online media to help them understand issues, because quite frankly you can’t trust the traditional media for anything more important than Justin Bieber.

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