Laman Webantu   KM2A1: 4500 File Size: 6.1 Kb *

M'sian Tech Firm Fear Censorship ...
By Chris Prystay

19/5/2001 4:29 am Sat

[Ura-ura kerajaan untuk mengawal maklumat yang bersimpang-siur di internet menyebabkan beberapa usahawan merasa sedikit bimbang mereka akan kehilangan daya tarikan pengguna dan pelabur antarabangsa. Ini juga bermakna mereka perlu menambah kakitangan atau bekerja lebih masa memantau maklumat yang terpapar agar tidak tertampar muka pihak kerajaan di mana-mana. Kekurangan maklumat tersebut akan menyebabkan pengguna lari dan mencari laman lain yang lebih luas isi dan kandungannya. Ini akan mencederakan industri IT negara yang masih baru hendak bernyawa. - Editor]

The Asian Wall Street Journal
18th May 2001

Malaysian Tech Firms Fear Censorship Under Proposed New Federal Net Laws



A Malaysian government statement suggesting that it might renege on a promise not to police the Internet is sowing confusion among Internet-based businesses and prompting concern that such a move could impede investment in the country's Multimedia Super Corridor project.

"Right now, we have no idea exactly who they are going after," said Steven Gan, editor of popular online newspaper Unlike Malaysia's tightly controlled mainstream media, online publishers such as Malaysiakini don't need a government-granted license to operate. "If they're going to bring in a licensing system for Malaysiakini and other news providers, there's definitely going to be a massive protest from us," Mr. Gan said. "We'll be screaming censorship."

The threat of censorship arose last week when Rais Yatim, a minister in the prime minister's department in charge of legal issues, said the government was mulling new laws for the Internet. "It is an imperfect situation when only the print media is governed by laws while those who indulge in sedition, the misuse of religion or other criminal offenses through cyberspace go scot free," Datuk Rais said.

The minister suggested that the government might look at extending the Printing Presses and Publications Act (1984) to include Internet content. Among other things, the act requires that publishing permits be renewed annually; this helps to keep Malaysia's generally docile mainstream media toeing the government line.

Clients May Go Elsewhere

Critics worry that the unexpected move to license Internet-information providers would introduce an element of unpredictability in Malaysian government policy and might jeopardize efforts to attract foreign information-technology companies. "This will definitely affect IT companies and they will feel very uncomfortable," said Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party. "There are other places they can go."

Some Internet companies say they aren't sure how they might be affected. "For us, it's a wait and see on what they actually do," said Ralph Lim, country director of Lycos Asia (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd., part of a joint venture between Internet portal Terra Lycos SA and Singapore Telecommunications Ltd.

Roland Takeshi, founder of C3 Network Sdn. Bhd., an audio streaming company, was more vocal. His one-year-old company hopes to team up with regional news organizations to offer audio versions of print articles on their Web sites. Mr. Takeshi worries that clients might not want to work with his company if they have to constantly think about whether the Malaysian government finds their content objectionable. If new legislation is passed, he said, the government would "really be shooting itself in the foot."

Plans for Asian Silicon Valley

That could have a negative impact on Malaysia's bid to build a technology-driven "knowledge" economy, a concern even for noncontent-oriented multinationals operating in the country. "For Lucent, really, it [Internet laws] would have very little impact," said Zam Isa, chief executive of Lucent Technologies Inc.'s Malaysia unit, which operates a regional technical center and a research laboratory. But he added, "We would be concerned if censorship caused restrictions in moving toward globalization."

Unlike China and Singapore, Malaysia has long maintained it will not try to control the dissemination of information on the Internet, a pledge intended to help woo investors to the Multimedia Super Corridor, a multibillion-dollar plan to build an Asian Silicon Valley near Kuala Lumpur. In recent years, however, political opposition groups who get little coverage in Malaysia's mainstream media have been using the Internet to mobilize and disseminate information, including harsh attacks on Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government.

The Multimedia Development Corp., the government agency overseeing the super corridor, maintained that Datuk Rais's statement doesn't contradict its so-called Bill of Guarantees to investors. "The Malaysian government guarantees that it will not block or deny access to sites or censor material at source," said executive chairman Othman Yeop Abdullah. "It does not mean that persons who put defamatory material or conduct any other criminal activities on the Net are immune from the reach of the law."

Datuk Rais didn't say exactly who the government was targeting with Internet legislation or when such laws might be formally proposed. But a spokesman for the minister suggested the measures would be aimed at "a few Web sites, especially those run by the reformasi movement." That is a grouping of opposition parties and nongovernmental groups who have coalesced around jailed former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a former protege of Dr. Mahathir whom the prime minister sacked in September 1998.