There had been two attempts to put a Chinese-style “Green Dam” to filter the Internet in Malaysia in the past while a number of Malaysians protested last week over the free 1 Malaysia email service which they felt was unnecessary.
Speaking at the 1st Malaysian-ASEAN Regional Bloggers Conference here this morning, the Prime Minister declared that Malaysia has one of the most liveliest and one of the freest, “if not most free”, blogospheres in the world.
“Malaysians have to thank Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for this.
“When he was the Prime Minister, and Malaysia was developing our Multimedia Super Corridor, Tun made the promise to the world that Malaysia would never censor the Internet.
“My government is fully committed to that wisdom — we intend to keep his word,” he said in his opening address during the conference at the Intercontinental Hotel here.
While stressing that it is important for bloggers and Internet users to “draw the line”, Najib said his administration still welcomed constructive criticism and wanted to work with them as partners.
“We do not fear bloggers. We want to be your partners,” he said.
He said the administration may not always agree with the views expressed by bloggers but it was imperative that both parties were not disagreeable all the time.
“There is difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable.
“But what is important is for us to put forth our view to help build a better Malaysia,” he said.
Najib noted that the social media apparatus has been used by many nations to galvanise the masses to march against the establishment, but stressed that his government recognised that practising an open digital democracy is the way forward for Malaysia.
He said that many Western governments, which often promote freedom of expression and information, were now “forced” to review their positions.
“Some of their politicians are even calling a gag on the internet, or at least some form of government controls and regulations, in the name of national security,” he said.
But Najib said the Malaysian government would stand by its pledge to keep the Internet free from censorship.
Malaysia, he said, has over a million registered mobile phone users today, about 10.1 million Facebook users and before the 2004 general election, had over 500,000 blogs in existence.
“I’m not sure why other governments do it, especially if it is true that these told of the Internet can be a pain in the neck.
“But on behalf of my own government, I can say for certain that it is because we know that this is the way forward.
“We practise open democracy, and as digital democracy is concerned, it is inevitable, that it would be silly — perhaps even futile — for governments to resist or ignore,” he said.
Najib reiterated that the power of the Internet in Malaysia was shown during the Sarawak state election last Saturday when Barisan Nasional cruised to a victory but also lost in a significant number of constituencies.
He said the online media or digital democracy had made it more difficult to win in the election.
“That is the fact of the matter,” he said.
But despite this, Najib noted that Malaysia would continue to spend and invvest to promote open democracy and digital democracy in the country.
“Malaysia is spending RM11 billion just on high-speed broadband. We have a scheme to provide free laptops to a million people, including school children, in the interior.
“The private secctor spends billions every year on infrastructure and research and development, and to get that smartphone or latest Tab or Playbook to the market,” he said.
Earlier, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad told the conference that blogging should be encouraged as it helped the people to become more involved in the running of their own country.
Mahathir, an avid blogger himself, reiterated that he had turned to blogging as his avenue to air his views after he stepped down as prime minister as he had found that the pro-government mainstream media were no longer interested in publishing his statements.
“The mainstream media would support you as long as you are in power and this should not be the way.
“Blogging has a role to play today.... not because there is censorship but because sometime people are too willing to be sycophantic or supportive of the authorities without even being told to be.
“Once in a while, the people should criticise the government... of course, I am saying this now that I am not in government,” he said, laughing.
Dr Mahathir added that it was “frustrating” when a person’s voice could not be heard.
“But bloggers should treat the government and the people fairly though their blogs... make comments to contribute to the betterment of society.
“Bloggers should be treated fairly and justly and if they cross the line, then they should be ready to face the consequences,” he said.