The government and the alternative media are on collision course over the question of freedom of expression.
A battle is shaping up between the government bent on removing every vestige of freedom of expression and a global army of online fighters equally determined to uphold the rights of every citizen to speak their mind without fear. The contest may be unequal with power all concentrated in the hands of leaders who have repeatedly misused it to rough up the common people whenever they took their cause to the streets. But the outcome of the clash, if it occurs, may not necessarily result in the rout of the Net citizens.
After emasculating the mainstream media, the big bully is now training its guns on the cyber world with the intention of curbing its free, soaring spirit. It is going on a warpath to destroy the one front where it has taken many beatings. The online news portals especially are being targeted because they have inflicted serious damage on the credibility and moral standing of the government of the day. By clamping down on the alternative media, the intimidators hope that they can at last sleep in peace. Their wish may be not granted because the new media is prepared for a long, bruising match.
The cyber state is big and strong. Its borders are not confined to a small corner but extend far and wide. Its soldiers are hardy, determined, focused. They form the vanguard of a new power that can bring down corrupt governments. In the cyber world, errant governments have no place to hide or run. They are constantly in the glare of publicity and will be mercilessly hounded for all the evil things they do.
In cyber space people can read news about the scandalous behaviour of their elected representatives and can vent their anger and disgust on the online public forums. Where once they read only propaganda stuff that gives glowing accounts of the administration, now they can read the other side of the story that exposes the ugly face of greed, corruption, fraud of those in power. Governments have reacted furiously against this new “estate” because the truth hurts.
In Malaysia, the other media has been effective in presenting its alternative news that tell of the many wrongs committed by those in authority. The public would not have known about the colossal waste of public funds or its mismanagement or the massive accumulation of wealth of public office holders if not for the online news portals that went to town with it. There were many “hits” which proved that more people put their trust in the alternative newspapers than in the government mouthpiece.
Fight not over
Stung, the government has tinkered with an old law and transformed it into a monster to silence the other front so that it can enjoy absolute power without being challenged. Now all those operating news portals are in danger of being penalised if they expose the misdeeds of the authorities. The government has the advantage in this contest because it starts from the position that a news portal is already guilty until proven innocent. The onus is on the cyber authors to prove their innocence, which may be tough given the state of our judiciary.
The attack on the online media and its allies in bloggersphere is comprehensive. Everyone is in danger of running foul of the detestable law. Even sub-editors who edit stories and give headlines are not spared the rod. If a headline screams “Minister’s son in sex romp”, or “CM built mansion with stolen state funds”, or “PM gets a huge cut in jet deal”, the sub-editor can be hauled up for his or her pain. Bloggers who dig up dirt on powerful individuals in government circles will have to face the music despite the veracity of their reports. The clampdown on free expression appears total, with this assault on the last bastion of press freedom.
The fight is not over yet. Though the scoreline favours the government, the online media cannot shirk from its duty to defend and promote truth whenever it comes under attack. It must continue to lay bare the sins of the state and expose scandals wherever they exist. Bloggers too must lend their support in defence of liberty. The government would like to see all guns fall permanently silent in the cyber sphere as it proceeds with its dirty election campaign, but the alternative media will not let repression and persecution drown out their voice. The fight is on.