Marina crying foul over censorship?

Marina Mahathir, daughter of former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir, is crying foul in The Column That Wasn’t. Apparently, she has a Musings column in the local daily, The Star, and her column will be amiss for a week, due to the sensitive nature of the article. A few things to note:

  1. The only bit of The Star that I read, is The Star Online: Nation, their business section, and occasionally their tech pull-out. I have never read Marina’s column before.
  2. The Home Ministry has already issued a show-cause letter to The Star, and I guess they don’t want another one hanging on their shoulders.
  3. Malaysia has the Printing Presses and Publications Act, enacted by none other than Marina’s father, Dr. Mahathir. If you are in print media, you apply for a license, every year, and KDN will grant/deny you. The Star is a public listed company, and the last thing they want is a suspension of their printing license. Guess what – Dr. Mahathir had already meted such a draconian ruling once before.
  4. It was around the time of Operation Lalang, that Dr. Mahathir suspended The Star for a period of a year. In December 1987, he amended the act, aiming it at the individuals and the groups who abused the government’s liberal attitude, saying “Being liberal to them is like offering a flower to a monkey. The monkey would rather tear the flower apart than appreciate its beauty.” This is a short extract from Malaysian Maverick, by Barry Wain (currently not for sale in Malaysia, as its being held by the Home Ministry — reading it, you can understand why they would need to protect the interests of the ruling party).
  5. Marina goes on to say: “But still there is room for courage, to stand up for freedom of speech. If we capitulate every time, then why bother publishing at all?” By now, such an articulate woman would know, that Malaysia lacks freedom of speech. The Sedition Act is called upon quite easily, and whom did they all learn this from? Her father. The printed press has always been controlled – those in the press will argue that things have improved, but Malaysians with a modicum of understanding by and large look at the press as controlled, and pro-government. But they have to be, right?
  6. She continues: “And as many have pointed out, what is the point of censoring the mainstream media when there is the freewheeling internet?” Exactly. She says she has continued to write her column for the last 20+ years, because of “many loyal readers who don’t necessarily read anything online”. What is the reach of The Star? 1 million? In a population of 28 million. I’m willing to bet that The Star gets quite a lot of online readers, and the older population are also, reading stuff on the Internet. Malaysiakini with its pay-wall, has an incredible number of subscribers and readers. There are other avenues, and the online medium is the place the Printing Presses and Publications Act cannot touch. Censorship in itself, cannot happen, thanks to the MSC Bill of Guarantees (for which, we must thank Dr. Mahathir for). But freedom of speech, can/may be curtailed thanks to the Communications & Multimedia Act (CMA) (for which, we must also thank Dr. Mahathir). Sedition, offensive content, etc. are all things you can be charged for. You remember #yorais? Participated in it? You could be in violation of Section 211 of the CMA 1998.
  7. Questioning The Star’s self-respect, is silly. They respect their shareholders, advertisers, employees, and readers. That’s why they didn’t publish something the Home Ministry might take offence to. After all, her beef should be with her father – he taught them how.
  8. Reading through her article, I appreciate her honesty and her questioning of issues that are pertinent to many Malaysians. My opinion of her column has clearly changed – maybe I will start reading it regularly. She’s also on Twitter – with a protected account nonetheless – @netraKL.
  9. Assuming the Home Ministry really did not want such an article published, they’ve probably got Marina Mahathir a lot more readers, just by trying to censure her. That is something the National Front has never learned. History, all but, repeats itself.

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