The government is running scared. TV3 is losing its appeal. The readership of mainstream media newspapers is decreasing and Malaysians are fighting back against the enslavement of their minds. The government does not like a thinking public, which have penetrating minds and intelligent questions.
As a consequence of this, the government is trying to encroach on the rakyat’s civil liberties. It wants to limit the media through which Malaysians enjoy some freedom of expression - Facebook.
Ahmad Shabery Cheek (left), the Communication and Multimedia Minister, said he is willing to listen to the opinions of the people, before banning access to Facebook. This is a first for Malaysia!
If the government is dissatisfied with the increasing number of people who are critical of it, the solution is to engage with the people and find solutions to the issues they have raised. The answer is not to ban Facebook.
Facebook has wide appeal amongst Malaysians (allegedly 15 million Malaysians are Facebook users) but the government proposes to stop dissenting Malaysians from spreading information, by blocking access to Facebook. It will all end in tears for the government.
Before it makes this drastic move, the government should consider the practical and money-making opportunities offered by social media sites, like Facebook. If Facebook were to be shut down, how would government ministries justify spending RM2 million to develop six Facebook pages to promote tourism?
Banning access to Facebook might mean retrenching thousands of policemen. What would policemen do, if they had no one to catch, for publishing seditious articles?
Many people have been accused of writing seditious articles, on Facebook, but the government’s interpretation of sedition is very broad. Something which is seditious one day, may not be seditious the day after. The rules which govern the sedition act are very fluid.
The authorities claim that Muslims, royalty and Islam are being abused and ridiculed on Facebook. The government is naïve to think that banning social media sites will put an end to criticisms and conflicting views. There are many other ways of spreading news and views.
Why stop at social media sites? Why not ban all books, not just the few which are on the list of banned books? As it is, many Malaysian children are not taught to think critically. They have not been encouraged to read, and to act upon the many ideas found in books. Many prefer to watch television or films, and do not have time to spend on their own, and dive into a good read. They have lost the art of having meaningful discussions.
We should credit former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad with his vision of the Multimedia Super Corridor. Two decades later, even he is feeling the heat, as exposé after exposé has threatened his legacy.
Fearing a public outcry
Today, Ahmad Shabery Cheek has the cheek to tell Malaysians that he has proposed blocking access to Facebook, because of abuse. He has acknowledged the difficulty in blocking access to the site because he fears a public outcry, as many people use it to connect with family and friends. Others use it as a diary and have no political agenda. He is also aware that there are only 2,000 reported cases of abuse, from the 15 million users (0.013 percent of the total users.)
As soon as Shabery’s announcement was reported, regular Facebook users began voicing their objections.
One person said, “Rather than blocking Facebook, why doesn’t the minister look at the gripes of the people, and learn to engage with the rakyat, by working on improving the problems voiced by the people?”
Another said, “Why block Facebook, just because of the few rotten apples who abuse it? If we were to follow his lead, then we should ban the cabinet because of the corrupt ministers who abuse the trust of the rakyat?”
A woman who travels a lot said, “In my line of work, I send photos to my family and friends, from different places, to reassure them that I am okay. I rely on Facebook as I am not one to pick up a phone for long conversations.”
On the other hand, there are people who think that the Facebook ban might force Malaysians to be more aware of the developing social and political situation in Malaysia, and be compelled to put some real effort into resolving the issues.
One said, “Malaysians know that the country has many problems. Instead of doing something positive about it, they simply put a tick to ‘like’ the proposal to solve the problem, which another user may have posted. Putting a tick is not the same as being actively involved in resolving the issue.”
“A person who has hundreds, or thousands of friends on his Facebook account needs to get real. Those ticks mean nothing,” said another Facebook user.
The government uses TV3 to reach out to every home. From early morning to late at night, the television channel works on the minds of Malaysians, so that they are receptive to government propaganda.
To further compound the problem of indoctrination, tear-jerking dramas work on housewives and women, and make them addicted to fiction. This is a clever way of distracting them from the harsh realities of increasing crime, rising prices, intolerance in society and our failing educational institutions.
Take away Facebook and face the wrath of the people. Ban Facebook and the government will risk losing Putrajaya at GE14.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).