Grave concern over tinderbox that is new media

  • Media urged to play role to educate public on online responsibilities
  • MCMC’s focus here taking away from its core industry development issues
Grave concern over tinderbox that is new media

HANDING out a chart yesterday (July 23) that broke down the type of complaints received against new media, Zulkarnain Mohd Yasin, head of monitoring and enforcement at the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), urged the journalists present to “be cautious in your reporting, that is our friendly advice.”
“The public is concerned over the social situation in the country,” he added.
The MCMC, which is the industry regulator for the telecommunications and postal sector, has in recent few years found itself being increasingly drawn in to regulate online content as well.
Malaysian reading habits have been shifting increasingly online, drawn not only by the ease and immediacy of consuming such content but equally by the censor-free, robust nature of the medium.
The MCMC is struggling to come to grips with the volatile and lightning-quick nature of how content, especially that with racially and religiously sensitive undertones, gets distributed – be it via news portals or social media platforms, especially Facebook and forums.
In fact, Zulkarnain said that the heavy resources the MCMC has been devoting to this issue “has distracted us from our core responsibility of industry development issues,” with telecommunications quality of service (QoS) being a key area it wants to devote more effort on.
He also highlighted the fact that Malaysia is on the final leg of its goal to become a developed nation by 2020. “We are moving forward to achieve this target, and have a key role to play.”
And yet its role in regulating content is taking up an increasing amount of its resources and attention.
The chart Zulkarnain distributed highlights recent cases of misinformation that the MCMC feels threatens national security, the political and economic environment.

Grave concern over tinderbox that is new media
Grave concern over tinderbox that is new media

Two current news events are the recent shoplifting case at a leading IT gadgets mall in Kuala Lumpur that took on racial undertones, and the reporting from Sarawak Report blog, which although not mentioned in the briefing, revolves around the highly politicised 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) issue and the allegations of billions being misappropriated.
Not surprisingly, news portals and social media have gone to town with both stories. The MCMC’s concern lies with the many cases of misinformation around these issues that it feels have caused public confusion.
“When the situation warrants it, we will take action, as we have with blocking access to Sarawak Report,” Zulkarnain said, adding that the action is temporary until the ongoing police investigations over the portal’s reporting of the 1MDB story are complete.
The MCMC used Section 263 (which is preventive in nature) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1988 in blocking the UK-based news site from being accessed from Malaysia.
Ironically, despite having taken action against Sarawak Report, Zulkarnain acknowledges that “taking any sort of action does not solve the [underlying] problem.”
Hence his advice that the media not only be more cautious in its reporting but also play a role in educating the public on their responsibilities in this new media landscape.
“Educate the public not to aggravate any situation” was how he described this gap the MCMC sees in media literacy and how the Malaysian public consumes [and shares] content.
“We need cool heads and a principles-based approach when readers want to comment on any content online as well,” he said.
Curiously, there was an awkward moment here when the discussion approached the fact that it is the content site owner who is equally responsible for any inflammatory comments left on their site.
An editor asked if Prime Minister Najib Razak would be held responsible for the comments left on his Facebook page and YouTube channel. Zulkarnain did not answer.
Related Stories:
Malaysia: The velvet glove comes off the iron fist
Our rights, online and offline
Internet censorship: You’ve already won, Dr Mahathir
Net censorship: BBC story on kangkung fiasco blocked?
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