Have parliamentary select committee instead of taskforce to control Internet

The Malaysian government has decided to set up a taskforce to study how existing legislation can be use to control websites and blog with purportedly "pornographic and seditious" content. The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that this marks the start of official censorship of the Internet, despite government assurances to the contrary. It comes after repeated threats by various ministers and members of parliament over the past three years to control online content.


On June 15 the English-language daily, the New Straits Times (NST), reported that the Cabinet has decided to set up a task force to study action against pornographic websites and blogs, within the framework of the Multimedia Bill of Guarantees. This states that the Internet will not be censored. According to NST, the taskforce will look at the feasibility to expand the jurisdiction of the Sedition Act 1948, a piece of legislation that has been consistently criticized by civil society for its broad provisions, to cover the Internet and other actions such as issuing warning to websites. The taskforce will be consisting senior officers from ministries, government agency, Attorney General's chamber and police.

The Ministry of Water, Energy and Communications told CIJ that the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission will be studying some of the issues.

CIJ is concerned that the Cabinet's decision is a sign of intolerance towards freedom of speech, which is protected under the Federal Constitution. Although the government states expressly that it will continue to honor the Multimedia Bill of Guarantee, drafted to attract foreign technocrats and investors, the decision to set up the taskforce shows that the government's intention to control the Internet remains strong. The decision will subject websites and blogs on current issues, race, and religion to tighter scrutiny . CIJ is worried that the taskforce will be a deterrent to free speech in the Internet and cause greater self-censorship.

We urge the government to balance alleged online rumors with an open and free press by repealing the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984, thus increasing the credibility of the press as a source of independent information. The Act and particularly its licensing provisions, have been identified to be detriment to press freedom by international bodies including the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia.

Instead of a taskforce, the government should set up a parliamentary select committee on communication rights which will include diverse groups to study issues on communication rights and freedom of speech in the Internet and the mass media.

The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free where all people will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.

 

Issued by

Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Director

For more information, please contact Wai Fong at 03 40230772