In today’s NST Editorial:
EDITORIAL: Up to no good
WHAT was striking about the removal of the inflammatory messages posted by “good man” on the blogs — and the subsequent police reports lodged against the anonymous writer — was that it was done by the bloggers themselves.
Since blogs are bywords for freedom of expression, one would have thought that they would be the last place to practise self-censorship or to favour restraints. But regulating content on the Internet is what the proposed code of conduct by bloggers for Malaysian blogs sets out to do.
This should not be viewed as an authoritarian backlash against unfettered freedom on the Net but a level-headed admission that with freedom comes responsibility. The message that comes across is that these Malaysian bloggers are willing to accept the responsibility that comes with the free flow of information in cyberspace.
In doing so, they have rightly drawn the line against pandering to those who promote racial and religious prejudice.
Unlike those who defend at all times the unrestricted right of anyone to write what they want on the Net, the bloggers accept that there are limits to such liberties. In no country and in no medium is freedom of expression absolute.
Libel laws, for instance, prohibit both offline and online expressions that damage reputations. Since the bloggers appear to have reason to believe that “good man” was up to no good with his provocative remarks, they have every right to take issue not only with what “good man” said but also with the right to say it.
Indeed, there is a strong case not to extend the right of free speech to those who peddle racial and religious hatred. When people pen racist words to incite ill-will, they are not merely articulating hurtful opinions but also causing harm to race relations.
Those who make malicious remarks about other ethnic or religious groups should not be allowed to speak and write with impunity.
While many would agree on the need for some controls on the dissemination of information in cyberspace — and there are laws against the production of, and access to, offensive and seditious materials — the problem appears to lie with enforcement.
The threat of prosecution and punishment under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 does not seem to have served as a sufficient deterrent. It is significant that, to date, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has not brought anyone to book.
Admittedly, the nature and scale of the Internet makes it difficult to regulate what goes on in the information superhighway. Blogs and newsgroups can evade jurisdiction by being hosted on servers outside the country, and technologies are available to assure anonymity and prevent detection.
While the difficulty of bringing the online lawbreakers to trial cannot be underestimated, unless successful charges are brought against them, it would be difficult to rein in the abuses on the Internet. It is imperative, therefore, for the authorities to act decisively.
The online version is here.