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Malaysia: Schizophrenic Attitude Towards New Media

News reports state that only thirteen media companies have been invited to the Perak Assembly sitting to be held on May 7, 2009. The sitting of the Malaysian state assembly of Perak is highly anticipated because of the current political climate in the state, which began when the ruling coalition, the National Front (“Barisan Nasional” or “BN”), took control of the state legislature earlier in the year. This controversy extended from politicians all the way to royalty.

The sitting on May 7 will be the first with its new legislative head, Mr Zambry Abdul Kadir, leading the proceedings. It is believed that Mr Zambry intends to remove the current legislative assembly speaker, the opposition's Mr V. Sivakumar, who appears to be an obstacle to the National Front's control over the state assembly.

According to news reports, a media notice was sent out by the state Information Department to several media companies recently, informing them of ‘tightened security measures'. It listed out the thirteen media invitees, which included no new media organizations, no bloggers and no foreign press.

To add salt to the injury, state-owned television stations RTM, BernamaTV and private station TV3, which is linked to a component party in the ruling coalition, are allowed to have an additional representative in attendance.

Opposition Parliamentarian, Mr Lim Kit Siang, notes on his blog:

All online media organisations are barred, including Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider, The NutGraph, Merdeka Review, Therocknews, etc. All foreign agencies and media, whether Reuters, AFP, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Jiji Press, CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera are also barred.

And a total ban on all bloggers – the quintessence of the new media!

Uninvited media organizations and representatives are barred from entering the state assembly hall, as well as from loitering in the hallways of the building.

New Minister of Information, Communication, Arts and Culture, Mr Rais Yatim, had dinner with fifty of Malaysia's influential bloggers recently. In addition, Mr Zambry had an exclusive online interview with Malaysiakini, Malaysia's first and highly influential online news portal. The bloggers at Mr Rais’ dinner and Malaysiakini were not on the invitation list. Ironically, Mr Rais was reported to have said at the dinner:

One of my friends told me that there were no less than 5,000 serious bloggers in the country voicing out their opinions on various issues.

Some of them have even stopped writing for the mainstream media to concentrate on full-time blogging. Among these bloggers are our own children, undergraduate students and lecturers, who form the most critical members of our society.

The Malaysian Insider reports:

This is not the first time media workers have been required to apply for a security pass in advance. It started during the legislature's first sitting last year under Pakatan Rakyat rule.

But the measures have never been so strict.

Opposition veteran, Mr Lim, continues on his blog:

Let me remind Zambry to stop being a “caveman” Mentri Besar of the Flintstones era and wake up to the age of the Internet and the new media.

The media restrictions of the usurper Zambry administration runs contrary to the public pledge of support for “a vibrant, free and informed media” made by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his first week in office.

Most bloggers have taken offence to the media shut down for this state assembly sitting. Damian Yeo states on his blog:

Why and what is the illegitimate state government of Perak is so afraid of? Banning media representative is never a good option. Why is the MB so afraid? Or was he so embarrassed to be scrutinize by the media?

Amethyst's blog states:

So is this what to expect in Perak in the future? No dissent tolerated?

BN should really rethink their policy. The more they try to shut people up, the more vocal they will be and more votes will be lost.

But then again, maybe old dogs cannot learn new tricks.

Activist, Anil Netto, writes:

The Assembly proceedings on 7 May will be closely followed by Malaysians – given the constitutional crisis in the state and the BN attempt to replace the Speaker, who is from the DAP.  Even the seating arrangements in the Assembly could be disputed.

Today, Perak Speaker A Sivakumar said he would meet with the State Secretary to obtain clarification on the media restrictions.

In line with democratic traditions, people have the right to know what’s happening in the Assembly, he said. He is therefore asking all media, including the foreign and internet media, to cover the proceedings on 7 May.

It is unclear how much headway Mr Sivakumar will have in obtaining invitations for new media, bloggers and foreign press at the 7th May sitting, all things considering.

May 3, 2009 update:  It has been reported that Perak State Assembly Speaker, Mr Sivakumar, issued a statement that all media organisations will be allowed to cover the Perak State Assembly proceeding on May 7 after all. Mr Zambry was reported to have claimed that he was not involved in the decision to restrict the media for the May 7 sitting. However, he was reported to have suggested it was made because of space constraints.

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