Malaysiakini is a high-brow Malaysian political news website published in English, Malay and Chinese. Since its launch on November 20, 1999 it has been widely considered to be one of the leading independent news agencies in Malaysia. Malaysiakini claims to attract 50,000 visitors a day and three million page views a month, substantial figures by Malaysian standards.
Unlike most news sources in Malaysia, Malaysiakini remains free from government regulation and thus widely considered to be the country's only credible, independent voice. Malaysiakini has gained both praise and notoriety by regularly covering subjects and viewpoints deemed taboo by the mainstream broadcast and print media; the fact that it is still allowed to operate is partly due to the Malaysian government's tolerance regarding internet censorship. The Malaysian government had pledged there would be no control and censorship of Internet content in line with efforts to create the Multimedia Super Corridor.
The Malaysiakini website is updated daily, except for Sundays and certain public holidays. Its news coverage concentrates mainly on local events, with a strong emphasis on items related to Malaysian politics. Malaysiakini also publishes columns, blogs and features that offer diverse viewpoints, both on local and international issues. Malaysiakini claims to practice an editorial policy that is consistently supportive of justice, human rights, democracy, freedom of speech and good governance.
Malaysiakini publishes its readers' opinions in its letters section. The letters section has generated active participation from readers of all races and religions and of various ideological backgrounds, creating an open arena of public debate unseen in Malaysia since the 1960s. Among other common topics are taboo subjects such as migrant workers, AIDS, Islam and racial quota systems. Malaysiakini claims to avoid exercising excessive editorial control on the letters section, as it attempts to foster a spirit of reasoned discussion.
Malaysiakini has been criticized for irresponsible journalism by the Malaysian government and its supporters. It has also been accused of harbouring pro-opposition bias. Notably, much of its reporting frequently adopts an anti-government tone, although letters from pro-government writers do appear in the letters section.
Malaysiakini has attracted its fair share of controversy. In March 2001, police in the Malaysian state of Selangor lodged a report against the website for quoting comments questioning the official death toll from racial rioting in the city of Petaling Jaya. In July of the same year, a university student leader filed a report claiming that a letter published on Malaysiakini bearing his name was not written by him.
However, the most serious incident occurred on January 20th, 2003 when Malaysiakini was raided by the Malaysian police. Four servers and 15 central processing units from its office worth RM150,000 (US$39,500) were seized during the raid. The police raid was instigated after the right-wing cadres in UMNO Youth, an arm of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), complained that a letter written by "Petrof", a reader, and published on Malaysiakini's website was seditious. In its police report, UMNO Youth claimed that the letter had questioned the special rights and privileges of the Bumiputras that are enshrined in the Constitution. Additionally, UMNO Youth claimed that the letter also contained false allegations that the Malaysian government was unfair to other ethnic races in the country. The seizure of the hardware temporarily silenced Malaysiakini, though it was eventually resumed normal operation.
On April 1, 2005 Malaysiakini published a fake news report alleging that four unnamed senior government officials were being charged for corruption. The report turned out to be an April Fool's joke, albeit published with the intention of casting the spotlight on official corruption, a problem still rife in Malaysia. This caused quite a stir in Malaysia with the government ordering a probe on the news organization.
Press Freedom in Malaysia
The Day They Took Away Our Computers - malaysiakini
Steven Gan, Malaysiakini.com (independent, online), Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, Jan. 28, 2003
On Jan. 20, after a complaint from the youth wing of Malaysia's ruling party, police raided the Kuala Lumpur offices of malaysiakini, an independent news Web site, and carried off the office's computers. The complaint followed malaysiakini's publication of an anonymous letter the youth organization deemed seditious. An investigation is under way. Malaysiakini's editor, Steven Gan, now faces fines or a jail term, at least. At worst, malaysiakini could be shut down entirely.—WPR
Malaysians protest the police raid on Malaysiakini.com
Demonstrators hold a vigil outside the offices of independent news Web site Malaysiakini.com after the Malaysian police raided the site's offices (Photo: Malaysiakini.com).
When the police came to malaysiakini’s office last Monday, they gave us two options: divulge Petrof’s e-mail address [Petrof was the pseudonym assigned to the offending anonymous letter-writer] or surrender our computers.
For us, the first option was out of the question. We have promised that malaysiakini will protect the identity of our letter writers. Given the pervasive state of fear in Malaysia, the only way to encourage readers to express their opinions openly is the assurance that malaysiakini will not disclose their identity should they want to remain anonymous.
The police knew well that seizing all our computers would effectively shut us down. Yet, they proceeded to remove 19 CPUs, including four servers. They were told they need not confiscate all our hardware—only one computer in malaysiakini was related to their investigation.
Indeed, Supt Mohd Kamaruddin Md Din, head of Bukit Aman’s computer crime unit, was initially willing to consider this—his team met us in malaysiakini’s conference room to discuss the options at length. But eventually it appeared that the decision was not theirs to make. The directive from the top was to take it all.
Thus, for police chief Norian Mai to say that our computers were confiscated because we were uncooperative was hogwash. We were willing to cooperate as far as our journalistic ethics would allow us to.
That said, the high-handedness of the police action against malaysiakini is deplorable. Clearly, proper procedures were not followed. The police should have applied for a court order for malaysiakini to disclose Petrof’s e-mail address. If malaysiakini had refused, the publisher could be cited for contempt.
Still, we were lucky to get our editorial operations back up within 10 hours—thanks to another server located elsewhere and our two-member technical team who worked overtime to establish our link with the back-up server despite having lost all our hardware.
Hours after the raid, 200 people held a candlelight vigil outside the malaysiakini office. This was despite the fact that malaysiakini was unable to inform readers about the raid. Apparently, they heard the news from other sources.
Not to forget those who have offered us office space after we received an eviction notice from the landlord, and those who have donated to malaysiakini’s Independent Media Fund. Since the police raid, a total of RM28,000 [US$7,368] has been received.
Much has been said about the Petrof letter. UNMO [the United Malays National Organization] Youth, which made the police report that led to the raid, claimed the letter contained seditious remarks.
It is, however, ironic that the debate in malaysiakini was sparked off by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad himself, who a few months ago suggested that the Malays should discard their “crutches” [that is, stop relying on government aid—WPR].
“There is a minority of Malays who are confident enough to think of doing away with the crutches, albeit gradually. But they are a very small minority. Their numbers are not going to increase any time soon. They are generally regarded as traitors to the Malay race,” he lamented in a July 29 speech at the Harvard Club of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
“Perhaps because I am trained as a doctor of medicine, I look at crutches differently. There was a time when doctors expected crutches to be used for life. But today, doctors get their patients on their feet as soon as possible.”
His statement was echoed by his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who urged Malays not to rely on special government aid.
“The time has come for us to give up the crutches and start walking independently,” he said. Apparently, Umno Youth did not get the message. But malaysiakini readers - both Malays and non-Malays - did. It was during this discussion in the readers forum that Petrof responded—albeit in rather emotional terms—to another letter which had passionately argued for the status quo to be kept.
As editor, I need not agree with all the letters that are published on malaysiakini.
The mark of a good editor is someone who is willing to go to the extent of publishing an article—be it a letter or an opinion piece—with which he or she vehemently disagrees. The editors in malaysiakini strive to meet such high standards, though at times we may fail.
We have published both pro- and anti-government articles, and those that berated us. Often we have run such letters without so much of a rebuttal. We believe in letting our readers lambaste or defend us. After all, the letters forum is their space for discussion.
As for Umno Youth, they are—according to malaysiakini columnist and author M Bakri Musa—“bankrupt of ideas.”
“Sadly this action of Umno Youth reveals my worst fears of the present generation of ‘Umnoputras.’ It is much easier to take them out of their kampong [village] and send them to the Oxfords and Cambridges of the world; alas more difficult to take the kampong out of them,” he added in a stinging letter to Khairy Jamaluddin, a member of Umno Youth.
Khairy, an Oxford graduate, is considered to be the rising star in Umno Youth and is also the son-in-law of Pak Lah, the next prime minister.
Khairy and his buddies in Umno Youth know that they are welcome to participate in our letters forum. After all, their boss, Hishammuddin Hussein onn took part in an online question-and-answer session with malaysiakini readers for more than two months in 2000.
While some may argue that malaysiakini has gained a lot of free publicity over the past week, the police action has nonetheless spooked some of our readers. We urge our readers not to give in to fear, or abandon malaysiakini.
And for those who think that this raid will put us out of business, they are dead wrong. Malaysiakini will continue to survive in one way or another. For us, closing shop is not an option.
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Mahathir - Kota Kinabalu
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