Govt proposes a council to discuss issues relating to the law and use of social media
Council can contain ‘offshoots that are not in line with the norms of our country’
A JULY 11 speech by Malaysia’s Information, Communications and Culture Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, hints that the Government is mulling more concrete methods of reigning in social media networks.
While its ownership of mainstream media outlets means it largely controls – indeed, dictates -- the messaging in print and broadcast, the Government has always had trouble with new media outlets. There have been, and always will be, attempts to control alternative media – not just the online media organizations but even individual bloggers and websites.
There was the ill-fated attempt to build our own Green Dam. There was the speech earlier this year by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who re-iterated his administration’s plans to create some form of online media council to regulate the “industry.”
And of course, there is the recent amendment to the Evidence Act, which civil advocates have said would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
In his “testing the waters” speech on July 11 at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC)-Universiti Teknologi Mara International Conference, Rais said that a social media council needs to be set up in Malaysia “to discuss various issues and aspects relating to the law and usage of the media.”
There are a lot of puzzling parts to this Bernama report. "Furthermore, through the media, we will know how important it is to understand that what is wrong in terms of the law in the normal world is also wrong in the cyber world.”
True, there are many people who still don’t understand that defamation laws apply just as well to content published on the Internet as they do to printed content, but I am not sure how this proposed social media council is going to tackle this.
Apparently the minister also cited the establishment of social media councils in the United States and Britain, saying that the people of these countries had the opportunity to discuss, lodge complaints and receive protection from the council.”
However, as far as I can determine, the social media council in these countries are dedicated to digital marketing and advertising.
So I am really not sure the esteemed minister is on about.
According to the report, Rais said the council could also “play a role in ensuring that the contents of the social media (sic) in the country reflected an industry that used local content instead of merely depending on other countries.”
Again, I am not even sure what that means. When a Malaysian tweets or puts up a Facebook post about something close to his or her heart, isn’t that content local?
Now, until further information is forthcoming, I will not rant about this – except to note that it may be a colossal waste of time.
What is worrying is that according to another source, Rais’ speech included sound bites that this social media council “must attain certain legality and prominence … and gain the confidence of the public … to contain the … offshoots that are not in line with the norms of our country.”
The amendment to the Evidence Act was just the latest wave of attack. Years ago, I wrote a column for The Star titled Start a blog, save the world (or a party), which discussed the Government’s attempt to engage and then control bloggers.
I said then, and this applies to social media practitioners just as well, “the blogging community isn’t a single enormous, amorphous entity that thinks alike. It’s a bunch of disparate individuals with their own ideas of what’s important and what’s true (to them). You can’t appeal to the community or engage it in its entirety.”
All you can do is engage them. And that’s all you should do.
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