About turn-on Blogging in Malaysis
April 16, 2008
Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Umno secretary general of the party’s youth wing, told AP all those vying for national youth posts “must have blogs to introduce themselves and their programs ahead of party elections in December.”
“All candidates must have blogs, if not, they are not qualified to be leaders. The last election showed that we lost the cyberwar. We need to embrace the technology now,” Abdul Rahman said.
Abdul Rahman’s comments follow in the wake of shock losses by Umno and its component parties in the National Front (BN) coalition in the recent general elections. The losses were partly attributed to the growing influence of new media on the Malaysian political makeup.
In 1999, an article exploring that very possibility by me, was dismissedeven by local pioneers of new media.
Back then, one interviewee commented that the incumbent government, and Malaysians in general, were not ready for the kind of transparency and accountability that new media brings to the democratic process.
But just two weeks ago, the chief secretary to the government indicated the winds of change have begun to blow:
“Gone are the days when public officials could choose to ignore the media, complaints, telephone rings or even letters to editors. The Public Service today has to respond not only to the conventional media but the alternative media. In the past the alternative media was associated with ‘young punks’. This no longer holds true as the alternative media, you know, knows no limit: be it age, time, geography. Everyone and I say almost everyone has a blog to his or her name. The speed of information is such that countries and companies today need web based crisis management plans to address effects of negative blogging in times of crisis. Even the Prime Minister himself has initiated a website where the public can write directly to him on any and all issues. The website warkahuntukpm.com.my, which was launched on 1 March 2008, enables the Prime Minister of Malaysia to interact directly with the civil society, the public at large and all of Malaysia’s stakeholders. If the Prime Minister is taking and making all efforts to engage the public individually and directly, surely this clearly sets the standard of service for the public and private sectors.”
This sharply contrasts with some reckless comments from other government leaders that incensed local bloggers prior to the elections.
Exhibit A: “Bloggers are liars. They use all sort of ways to cheat others. From what I know, out of 10,000 unemployed bloggers, 8,000 are women. Bloggers like to spread rumours, they don’t like national unity. Today our country has achievements because we are tolerant and compromising. Otherwise we will have civil war. Malays will kill Chinese, Chinese will kill Malays, Indians will kill everybody else,” then Tourism Minister Tengku Adnan Mansor in reaction to an Indonesian blogger/tv journalist Nila Tanzil as reported by Sin Chew.
Exhibit B: “The government will not be affected by blogs and other Internet forums that may be created during campaigning for the upcoming elections. While the younger generation are tech-savvy, they tend to believe newspaper reports over comments made on the Internet. The Internet is used mainly to book budget airline tickets or to get entertainment news. My children are young professionals and enjoy surfing the Internet. But they don’t read blogs,” former information minister Zainuddin Maidin as told to China Press.
Exhibit C: “There are no laws in the cyberworld except for the law of the jungle. As such, action must be taken so that the ‘monkeys’ behave,” Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin, who has since taken a new tack.
Adding fuel to the about-turn enthusiasm by the National Front government for all things Internet-ish, one academic in his post-election analysis went so far as to suggest “70 per cent of the results were influenced by the new media, especially blogs”.
University Malaya’s Media Studies Department lecturer Dr Abu Hassan Hasbullah said the findings were based on a survey of 1,500 respondents from all states.
“We must be more open (to new ideas) as the opposition was already using the new media since 1998 with 45 bloggers, rising by 50 percent in 1999 and reaching 7,500 bloggers by the middle of 2004,” he told Bernama.
Abu Hassan said the National Front had only two websites and one blog in 2004, while the opposition had “thousands” of websites allied to the opposition. He added the opposition had “indirectly trained” some bloggers to become politicians and who eventually won parliamentary seats, an obvious reference to bloggers like Jeff Ooi and Tony Pua.
An independent election media monitor initiative, organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)indicated that despite the obvious mainstream media bias, voters had rejected the propagandist approach.
CIJ Executive Director Gayathry Venkiteswaran recommeded that the Malaysian media change along three lines:
1. Return to the ethical and professional standards of fairness, objectivity, balance and accuracy;
2. Have more competition in the form of more media being allowed;
3. Do away with the laws that restrict the media.
(Under Malaysia’s onerous Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, all publications in Malaysia must apply to renew their publishing licenses annually. The Home Ministry oversees publication permits, and there is no judicial review of its decisions.)
Whether the current cold embrace of new media by the incumbents will eventually win over Malaysia’s most caustic online critics remains to be seen. But at least some change, however tenuous, is better than none.