Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin’s latest salvo on the need for the government to impose control over the Internet is certainly worrying as it may cause unnecessary confusion – if not temporary ‘mental instability’ – among ordinary Malaysians.
For one thing, the people may wonder whether Zainuddin seriously wants to break the Mahathir administration’s pledge to foreign investors and Malaysians in general that there would be no censorship of the Internet. Wouldn’t a change in policy like that give conflicting signals to investors and ordinary Malaysians alike? And what would happen to the Multimedia Super Corridor then?
Zainon Ahmad, in an enlightened piece for theSun today, has raised the possibility that the mainstream newspapers do not really want the Internet news websites to come under the Printing Presses and Publications Act. Rather these newspapers are more likely expressing the hope that the government would relax – or even repeal – the PPPA and grant more freedom to the newspapers so that they can operate on a level playing field with Internet news websites.
Secondly, Malaysians may also be befuddled as to whether Zainuddin, the Information Minister, has switched his portfolio overnight to that of Energy, Water and Communications Minister, who is responsible for matters relating to the Internet and multimedia development. This division of labour has been aggressively blurred by Zainuddin, and ordinary Malaysians may no longer be able to discern the long-established demarcating line between the two ministries. What’s more, they may no longer know what Lim Keng Yaik is responsible for.
Thirdly, Zainuddin’s criticism of the media may have given the shivers to the mainstream newspapers and further constrained them – and it could thus inadvertently boost the popularity of websites and bloggers. If this happens, it could befuddle ordinary Malaysians who may wonder whether Zainuddin was indirectly campaigning for the Internet!
Fourthly, the rakyat may also be left perplexed as to whether rumours, some of which circulate on the Internet, are caused by restrictions imposed on the mass media – or whether new restrictions imposed on the Internet would actually create an even bigger rumour mill in the country, this time supported by more traditional means such as surat layang (poison pen letters).
Finally, Malaysians may wonder what Zainuddin’s real portfolio is. After all, following Zainuddin's warning to the media, Deputy Internal Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow came out to clarify that Zainuddin’s Information Ministry is only responsible for RTM and Bernama. Fu said that the responsibility for overseeing newspapers actually lies with the Internal Security Ministry (theSun, 31 July). So the question arises, is Zainuddin really empowered to issue warnings to newspaper editors? Perhaps he should concentrate on improving the credibility and integrity of RTM and Bernama and ensuring that they serve the public interest.