Someone Please Shoot Jeff Ooi Too

Does Jeff Ooi like his soup piping hot? I would like to think so because he has just gotten himself into one again. He was implicated for a comment that someone left in his blog. P. Gunasegaram, theSun and Nexnews Group Executive Editor, lodged a complaint with the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum against Jeff for allowing a comment that was interpreted as to incite people to cause bodily harm to Gunasegaram.

Is this the shape of things to come for the blogosphere in Malaysia? Will this incident intimidate blog readers enough for them to stop leaving comments? Or if they do leave comments, will it be sterile? Will bloggers moderate comments or disable the commenting function once and for all? Will bloggers be subjected to multi-million ringgit lawsuits like one that befell on the late MGG Pillai?

Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Bloggers should not be any different. We are bound by the laws of the country. I opted not to blog anonymously for the simple reason that if my details are easily available, I will be more vigilant in what I write and not run foul of the law. The moment we put up an entry, we must realise that we are liable for it, for better or worse. Therefore, we have to be responsible for what we write. We also have to be responsible for what other people leave in our blogs. That is how this game is being played.

There have been attempts by several quarters to stifle the progress of blogs as an alternative medium for disseminating information not published in the mainstream media. While I agree that some bloggers have used it to further their malicious agendas, most of us are using it in a responsible manner.

Jeff may be opinionated. That is not a bad thing. As it is this country is full of sycophants willing to sell their souls for fatter bank accounts. Despite his idiosyncrasies, Jeff has done a lot to reveal the other side of the coin of the Malaysian socio-political arena. As a fellow blogger and a citizen, I support what he has been doing although I may not agree with some of the methods he employed.

No. we should not shoot Jeff Ooi the messenger. Instead, together with him, we should attempt to use whatever rights we have to reveal the misdeeds that are robbing us blind and propagate a society that is fair and just to all, irrespective of creed or colour. That is a Malaysia that I envision. I believe it is one that many of you desire too. And we as bloggers can play a part in realising that common dream.

Digging Up The Flower Bed: Digital Speech In Malaysia

In concluding his thesis titled “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom: Digital Speech in Malaysia”, Tang Hang Wu noted, “Whether this community will be allowed to continue to exist in its current form is an open question.” Tang is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. The following is the abstract of his thesis:

The thesis of this paper is that in some societies blogs are beginning to act as a force for democratization and perform the role of being an alternative form of media. Blogging amplifies the cultural and participatory elements of free speech by enabling more people to take part in the spread of ideas and the dissemination of information. By publishing online, bloggers not only rout around prohibitive financial hurdles to media production but also overcome some laws that restrict freedom of expression. This essay focuses on a Malaysian case study of bloggers who are now a formidable force in disseminating information and promoting a democratic culture in the country despite laws that restrict free speech in the country. This essay also reflects on the salient lessons gleaned from the Malaysian experience which might be relevant to the project of constructing a successful blogging scene in the Middle East and other authoritarian or soft-authoritarian regimes.

We need to wonder no more. The day of reckoning for Malaysian bloggers is finally here. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi warned that those using blogs and the Internet to spread rumours and slander would be detained for undermining the nation’s economic policies. The Star quoted him saying, “We cannot allow such matters to flow through uncontrolled.”

But this is nothing new. Many of us will remember that Jeff Ooi, the pioneer of Malaysian socio-political blogs, was hauled up by the police in February 2005 for a controversial comment left in his blog. In January 2003, online news portal Malaysiakini had its servers carted away by the police for refusing to reveal the author of a letter critical of special rights accorded to Bumiputras. Going further back to September 1998, four persons were arrested and charged in court for spreading rumours of a riot in Chow Kit via emails and newsgroups.

As Jeff succinctly put it: “What is illegal offline is also illegal online.”

To all intents and purposes, the Internet is not a frontier of lawlessness and should not be treated as such. We are still bound by the laws of the state. As evident from past incidents, the police have no qualms in coming down hard on those who were deemed to have stepped over the line.

All said, it is still surprising that the Prime Minister has come out with this statement now. It does not bode well for the Malaysian blogosphere, especially for socio-political bloggers who have been furnishing alternative news and those not carried by mainstream media.

Will little birds brave the threats and continue to supply insider news? Will bloggers dare to write as boldly as before? The wheel has been set in motion. The noose is slowly but surely being tightened. The flowers are no longer blooming. Whither digital speech in Malaysia?