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The best way to counter alleged misinformation is more information, not the restriction of information. This was the conclusion of a letter sent by Malaysian human rights group EMPOWER (also known as Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor), in reaction to the latest internet censorship developments in the country.
The blocking of The Malaysian Insider by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in February is the latest manifestation of an ongoing and worsening trend of internet censorship in Malaysia. A trend that is not new, and that has accelerated since 2013, with arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions of online content including blocking. For this, The MCMC has historically relied on the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 provisions, including Section 233 on “Improper Use of Network Facilities or Network Service”, to take actions which amount to censorship in practice.
In 2013, users of a number of Malaysian internet service providers could not access websites with content perceived to be critical of the government, including the website of a citizen election observation initiative. A number of YouTube videos were also blocked. In 2009, the MCMC ordered Malaysiakini to take down two videos of a protest during which residents of Section 23 in Shah Alam paraded a severed cow’s head as a show of anger against the relocation of a Hindu temple into their neighbourhood. Section 233 and Section 211 on “offensive content” were cited in 2009 to justify the order against Malaysiakini.
Malaysia is experiencing a severe erosion of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information, offline and online. The internet, including social media and online news portals, certainly appears to be targeted for particularly repressive measures. Amendments to the Sedition Act in April 2015 explicitly include electronic media, and there have been news reports that amendments to the CMA 1998 will be tabled later in the year.
In the words of EMPOWER, “the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission should cease arbitrarily blocking Internet content, including news portals, and introduce participatory, transparent processes into which the media, civil society, and the public could have input. Blocking online content should be an action of last resort, not the first. The blocking of The Malaysian Insider, the Sarawak Report, the Medium, and other online content must be lifted immediately.”
Read the full letter: EMPOWER Malaysia: ‘Stop censoring information’.
For more information see EMPOWER’s in-depth research: Status of Freedom of Expression Online: Malaysia.