A glimmer of hope in the end to the ‘monopoly on truth’ in Malaysia

According to a recent New York Times article, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has called for a re-examination of the “old ways” of censorship, which heavily restrict newspapers, radio, and television within the largely Muslim country. While these media outlets have been heavily censored in past years, it is interesting to note that the Internet has remained mostly free from government regulation, with only a few exceptions recently.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came after many parts of the British magazine “The Economist” were blacked out in the print version that circulated throughout Malaysia, while the online version remained un-edited and easy for Malaysians to access the entire, un-censored edition. According to Steven Gan, editor in chief of Malaysiakini, one of Malaysia’s largest online news sources, it finally became clear to the government that they had lost their “monopoly on truth.”

Even as Prime Minister Razak has admitted that the old ways of censorship are no longer effective, and thus need to be reviewed, this does not mean a censorship-free Malaysia will be born anytime soon. In a county where the number of internet uses has grown from 3.7 million in 2000 to 16.1 million in the past year, the goal of reaching full access to news seems dim, as Malaysia’s home affairs minister Hishammuddin Hussein commented that “in a multiracial and multireligious society, filtering must be done, as absolute freedom can cause chaos.”

At this early juncture it is hard to predict exactly what Hussein’s comment will entail for Malaysia, and whether any real strides towards diminishing censorship will actually be made. At least for now, the issue of censorship has been publicized, and hopefully will not be “censored” from the agendas of Malaysian leaders.

2 comments

  1. It is interesting, and somewhat surprising, to hear that countries like Malaysia still utilize a system of censorship to control and filter what enters into mainstream media and news. While Malaysia uses censorship to keep the religious and ethnic societies at bay, understanding that absolute freedom of the press would “cause chaos,” I often reflect on this idea of filtering when it comes to media and news in the United States. It seems as though you can flip to any channel on television or open any magazine and there, staring back at you, is some provocative scene or a string of profanity. Yet, there was a time in the United States that this was absolutely prohibited. What, in turn, caused this complete shift? Did we think our society could handle a less rigid approach to mainstream media and news whereas other countries grapple with the need for censorship? Could the rise of the Internet be to blame? Perhaps. The Internet certainly makes the uncensored material, which Malaysia is trying to block, easily accessible to virtually anyone of any age. Yet, Malaysia is trying to censor in response to the Internet’s widespread growth, so as to preserve harmony within its diverse population.

  2. I agree with Amy. I think it is hard for Americans to connect with the idea of censorship since our country allows us to view whatever we want, whenever we want, through as many different technologies and media outlets as we want. Most Americans would find it hard to imagine life without our freedom to stay connected. In a single day I listen to the news on the radio in my car, check various internet sources for news, visit Facebook and see comments and updates on various news stories, and watch the news on television. Throughout the course of the day I find out information ranging from sports scores to international issues. I do not know if I am better off for being free to be as informed as I am, but I could not imagine my life any other way.

    Malaysia argues that, “in a multiracial and multireligious society, filtering must be done, as absolute freedom can cause chaos.” Isn’t America a multiracial and multireligious society? As Americans, do we realize the impact all of this exposure may have on us as a country? I do not think that filtering is necessary to prevent chaos, but in a country that has had censorship for so long I think it may be problematic to do too much too soon. If Malaysia is scared of how the full access to news will affect their country they might want to take an approach that gradually introduces uncensored outlets over the course of a few years.

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