Malaysiakini : "I think the decision made against us and the
hefty fine that has been put against us is perhaps an attempt to not
only punish us but shut us down.” – Steven Gan
| To Ayah Punya kata, GrayDeer0609, Legit, Semua Boleh – Bodoh pun
Boleh and of course, the aptly named Victim, your comments are
apparently worth half a million ringgit. Of course, for half a million
ringgit I would have expected rhetorical Molotov cocktails instead of
the usual Malaysiakini drive-bys which is what these comments were.
I guess the "Malaysiakini 5 learnt
his or her lesson", someone texted me. Really? Five anonymous
subscribers wrote something that the political elites have said and the
news portal gets fined but Malaysiakini managed to raise more than was needed through public appeals in record time, what exactly is the lesson here?
Of course, Malaysiakini
is now going to take a tougher stand on comments - which was the point
of this intervention by the state. Folks who normally complain about
“cancel culture” are texting me and saying that if Malaysiakini does
not police the comment section, then the state has to step in. Do they
realise how moronic this sentiment is? You complain about cancel culture
but then want the policing of speech.
On the other hand, some
folks are getting their knickers in a twist because of the “fascists”
aspect of the court’s decision and lionising the dissenting judgment.
What they do not seem to remember is that in 2019, Gobind Singh Deo, the
then communications and multimedia minister, said that news portals
should be responsible for their readers' comments.
in the press - Gobind also called on news portal operators to be more
careful and take full responsibility for what is written in the comment
section of their portals to avoid creating any problem. The portal
operators should also post news of high value and that could help
strengthen national unity.
long time reader asked me why I had not written anything about this
case and my answer was simple. If I were to write something, drawing
attention to the fact that political leaders and even a former twice
elected prime minister had more or less said the same thing, as these
anonymous citizens but no action was taken against them, well that would
be just pouring fuel on the fire.
I was not exercising personal responsibility; I was practising self-censorship. I did so because I did not want to jeopardise Malaysiakini
and the livelihoods of the staff. So, I decided not to comment and
hopefully, this farce would end soon. But the thing is, it never ends.
comment section has always been toxic, defined unfortunately by many
posters who just want to vent online thinking that this is an
unacceptable expression of dissent.
While some subscribers
attempt to have an honest dialogue and write intelligently, the vast
majority view the comment sections as partisan venting grounds, the
place to express their animus against the system or engage in culture
Indeed Malaysiakini readers who are active in the
comment section take great pride in believing their comments influence
policy decisions and opposition political operatives have said more or
less the same when it comes to hot button issues.
I think it is ridiculous for anyone to actually believe this because, for the most part, Malaysiakini and its readers are a small part of the vast ecosystem that makes up the vox populi.
Indeed, the English section of Malaysiakini is often the target of the Malay uber alles crowd because this section is used as a proxy for the editorial stance of Malaysiakini.
hacks have had a field day using the comments by opposition supporters
in their propaganda pieces. As someone who has been warning political
operatives to disavow the toxic speech of its online supporters for
years, the only response I have received is that “how do you know they
are really our supporters?", which is the kind of reasoning that enables
folks who think they are merely venting online but contributing to a
toxic online discourse.
Right now, there is fear that news portals
or any organisations, for that matter, have to police their comment
sections, lest they run afoul of the state. Lawyers and political
pundits are sounding the alarm bells that this would stifle free
How is the state going to police the comment sections?
comment sections are the few remaining public spaces in this country
where folks can say their peace, ill-informed, bigoted, ignorant or
racist it may be.
Some people have questioned how the state is
going to police the comment sections and social media when it comes to
this issue. They do not have to. What they can do is make enough
examples of individuals who go against this supposed law, expand the
type of comments the state finds unacceptable and Malaysians will fall
Furthermore, news portals will, on their own
initiative, crack down on what they think the state finds offensive, and
subscribers would be penalised, based on the fear of repercussions from
the state. Malaysiakini is, of course, a convenient target but
digging deeper, one would actually find diverse voices - which are
essential in a marketplace of ideas.
Here is an excerpt from my piece a couple of years back, where I was defending the speech of Isma president Aminuddin Yahaya:
“In 2013, the current Isma president, Aminuddin Yahaya, who was then its deputy president, accused, among others, Malaysiakini
CEO Premesh Chandran of being behind the nefarious Comango initiative
to destabilise Islam in this country. The Isma president now has a
column in the Bahasa Malaysia section of Malaysiakini.”
are news portals going to determine which comments from readers need to
be censored? Outright racists and bigoted comments are easy to spot and
I suppose one could make the case – I would not – that they need to be
censored, but what of comments which make people uncomfortable and,
hence, are termed as inciting racial or religious discord? How are news
portals supposed to police these types of comments?
As someone who
has been on the receiving end of racist comments and talking to a
contributor who has been on the receiving end of misogynistic comments,
both of us understand that policing the comment section is a foolhardy
Ultimately, a commitment to free speech is needed, not
more fear of regulations and arbitrary rules that restrict our public
spaces even more.
However, far too many Malaysians are not
interested in ideas (free speech) but more invested in supporting
political parties and personalities who are against such ideas, even
though they claim that they support such ideas.
I get that people
do not want to read a piece like this, especially when they think that
the "little people'' have given a black eye to the system. Political
operatives who have a horrendous track record of not supporting free
speech or who have enacted legislation that further restricted free
speech and expression are jumping on the bandwagon supporting free
It is extremely funny when some folks attempt to
rehabilitate their image using one of the most important democratic
ideals while their dogma is based on racialist and religionist
foundations. This case dealt with the justice system, hence you get all
sorts of people with different agendas supporting "free speech".
happens when it boils down to race and religion? There will, of course,
be a lack of political support and any attempt to mitigate the judgment
of the courts through appeals for public donations would be defined as
anti-race or religion.
All this is merely a prelude to a darker
shape of things to come because we have neither a majority of the
citizenry (and do not for one minute think I am only talking about the
“Malays”) committed to free speech nor a political apparatus willing to