The Malaysian government is implementing a draconian new law that will see all news websites registered with the government. The new law will grant the country’s authorities power to cancel media operating licences and even arbitrarily suspend them. Such laws look set to corrode the country’s free press and freedoms of expression as guaranteed by Malaysia’s constitution, worrying many
Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Minister, Datuk Seri Salleh, said the new laws would give the authorities absolute powers to permanently block websites that were considered to be “threats to national security and stability.”
The move toward censorship of the country’s online media forums follows an August 17 meeting between the Malaysian government and Facebook, Twitter and Google officials, to find a proper method of addressing the publishing of false information on public forums.
The Minister, in reiterating his stand on the registration of online news websites, urged the public to be more responsible with the information they posted online, even reminding Malaysians that in the west, media freedoms had boundaries.
He said, “The online environment is not a lawless space and action can be taken against anyone found to have breached the law, including in the online space. Bear in mind that publishing or posting sensitive or unverified information might potentially spark an untoward situation likely to jeopardize public safety.”
The minister was referring to the previous suspension of a newspaper, ‘The Edge’, and the permanent blocking of another news website, ‘Sarawak report’, for reportedly posting unverified information. The information related to the notorious 1MDB scandal that has seen numerous top level government officials lined to embezzling billions in taxpayer funds, including the country’s Prime Minister.
Efforts to have news websites registered has been seen by many as an attempt by the government to stem rising outrage over the scandal.
The media in Malaysia has grown into a powerful tool for checking the autocratic government’s excesses. This has not gone down well with many officials who now see restricting it as the only way of silencing it. Should the law be passed, it would bring down one of the key pillars of a stable democracy: freedom of expression.