KUALA LUMPUR – September 11, 2017: Do Malaysians have easy access to information? The latest findings by Oxford University have convinced local media watchers that they do.
The university’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism concluded in its recent study that half of Malaysian news consumers used online texting application, WhatsApp, for their weekly news consumption purposes.
It found that 51 per cent of Malaysians used WhatsApp to find, share or discuss news, compared to only three per cent of people in the United States.
Journalist/blogger Datuk Ahirudin Attan wrote at Facebook that the findings proved that Malaysians have unrestricted access to information.
“If we didn’t, WhatsApp would not have a space on our Internet, would it? For that matter, same goes for Facebook, Blogspot, WordPress, Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insight, The Edge and the list goes on and on.
“We enjoy the kind of freedom of expression that people in other countries would die for (and have died for!) WhatsApp is interactive, which means you can talk back, discuss, rant, lie, fake, preach, slur, etc,” he wrote.
Concurring with Ahirudin is media and communications lecturer Dr. Jeniri Amir of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
He said it is good that the government has not gone to the extreme in curtailing access to information.
Jeniri considers depriving the people from having any outlet to air out or read dissenting views to be dangerous for the country’s stability.
“People are able to let off some steam by reading news that echo their beliefs. If they cannot do so, the pent-up dissatisfaction will eventually result in a massive outbreak once it reaches tipping point,” he remarked.
On a poser why some Malaysians insist that access to information is still heavily stifled despite the contradicting statistics, Jeniri pointed out that such perception was due to certain ill-advised actions that were taken against the media.
One of which was when the Multimedia Communications and Multimedia Commission briefly blocked access to the now-defunct Malaysia Insider (TMI) in February last year.
“From what I understand, TMI was already on the verge of closing down due to massive financial losses. If the government had patiently waited, it would not have been linked to TMI’s closure,” said Jeniri.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his latest blog posting today points out that Malaysia has, since he took office as PM, enjoyed stronger democracy and press freedom.
Repealing the Internal Security Act, scrapping some restrictions on newspaper publishing licences and implementing the Peaceful Assembly Act to allow peaceful protests were among the examples Najib cited to back his claim.
“We have faith in Malaysia’s democracy, and in the right of the people to air their views. The opposition, however, has tried to make out in the American press that critics of the government are routinely imprisoned.
“Why, then, is it that you will find praise for opposition politicians in our national newspapers, and vigorous debates – including plenty of criticisms of the government – at Malaysia’s web portals?” Najib asked.