Malaysia's former PM calls for web censorship, lashes out at its impact on 'morality'

Country's longest serving head of state, Mahathir Mohamad, says he regrets promising not to censor the web and accuses the internet as playing a major role in undermining public morality.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The internet has played a key role in eroding public morality and must be censored to prevent further degradation, urges Malaysia's former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

He said his government should not have promised not to censor the web as it did not then understand the "power of the internet". "Today, I have changed my mind," , Mahathir said on his blog

He argued that alternative media has no true freedom to begin with, where governments and operators of internet platforms, among others, can censor alternative media. Since websites can be blocked, the internet is "actually less free" than print and electronic media operating under government licences, he added.

"I myself have suffered from such censorship," he said, referring to his previous post about the Jews and the war in Gaza which was blocked from Facebook. In an attempt to reinstate his post, he revealed that he changed hosting servers three times but still faced attempts to block his blog.  

"I think it is time we stop talking of the freedom of the press. Let us admit that the press needs to be censored. It needs to be censored because freedom, any kind of freedom will always be open to abuse. The worst abuses are in the field of morality," said the former politician, who was Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister from 1981 to 2003. He remains a major influence on local politics and his blog is widely followed by the local community. 

Mahathir lashed out at the negative impact the internet has had on public morality, singling out how children can now easily access pornography and how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) is "openly touted as part of human rights". 

"I don't care how sacred is freedom, but I think the time has come for governments, at least the Malaysian government, to censor the internet," he said. 

The Malaysian government in 1996, then still under Mahathir's leadership, had pledged to "ensure no internet censorship" as one of its 10 Point Bill of Guarantees when it launched the nation's Multimedia Super Corridor ICT strategy. It did so as part of efforts to attract foreign tech investment.

That the person who has complained about being censored is calling for more censorship seems odd, and the irony isn't lost on the local media. 

"So Dr Mahathir, suffering from censorship, wants more censorship. Go figure," wrote Digital News Asia, noting that the former politician had first voiced his regret for promising not to censor the web in June 2012.

In a searing commentary against the former prime minister, the Malaysia-based website suggested Mahathir wants censorship applied on all other media but his own. "Certainly the media owned, directly or indirectly by Dr Mahathir's party Umno, have been given the freedom to make false allegations against opposition politicians, and to conduct an editorial jihad against the Christians of the country, as well as those with Chinese ancestry.
"Umno's flagship, the Malay daily Utusan Malaysia, has never been called to account for its attacks on either community, so Dr Mahathir is right: It is free to continue publishing hate-filled invective, while the alternative media is not, relatively speaking." 

Tony Pua, opposition lawmaker with the Democratic Action Party, agreed there needs to be "some degree of Internet control" against pornography, but cautioned against censoring news or opinion pieces. "Our concern is in Malaysia's case, such restriction of the internet will be used by the ruling government to increase their stranglehold on power and to suppress the opposition's voice for the purpose of retaining power," Pua told AFP.

Malaysia's opposition party has advocated against corruption, human rights abuse, and crime in the country, where 66 percent of its 30 million population has web access, according to AFP.

And some of the country's online community have spoken out against Mahathir's call for censorship. Citing comments from its readers, popular blog site Malaysiakini quoted "Ian2003" to say: "People don't usually get block by international websites unless the posting is too extreme and defamatory in nature, and that speaks much of Mahathir’s content. At least his blog is blocked due to real sedition and unsubstantiated defamation but in our own country, anything that is against the government and especially if it is the truth it'll not only be blocked, the writer would be charged as well."

Another reader, "Vijay47", said: "This demand by Mahathir that the Internet be censored because he himself was censored could be described in many ways and one word that comes to mind is 'puerile'." 

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