Monday, April 28, 2008
THE NET: TO CUT OR NOT TO CUT?
Stories by Rozana Sani
Ruby feels the moves taken to censor the Internet are doomed for failure.
Muhamad Akmal says objectionable info can be countered with feedback.
Chan cites learning to recognise what is right or wrong is important.
Abdul Samat thinks that self-censorship is the most practical method.
Internet censorship seems to be gaining momentum as there is growing concern that certain information on the Web could lead to various sensitivities related to religious, moral, social, financial and political issues. Is this a step in the right direction, or another pointless exercise?
Blocking bad vibes
THE online environment where there is a free flow of information contains both good and bad, depending on one’s point of view. Some believe the “bad” content need to be controlled or suppressed from being accessed by the general public to stem negative actions or reactions – hence, the measure to censor the Internet as in the case of Indonesia and France.
Others think censorship of information is futile due to the underlying distributed technology of the Internet. For example, residents of a country that bans certain Web sites can easily find the content on servers outside the country. Hence, the need for other types of measures.
Trained architect, businesswoman and self-confessed serial blogger Ruby Ahmad strongly feels the moves taken to censor the Internet are all doomed for failure.
“We live in a highly wired, interconnected world and I can only think of one way to prevent users from not using the Internet ‘correctly’, and that is by preventing them from buying or using computers,” she said, tongue-in-cheek.
“Unsavoury content is deemed disgusting and unacceptable to some, but is very acceptable to others. It’s like the durian. I heard a food critic described it as perhaps the most revolting thing on earth. But personally, I quite like the D22!
“Law enforcement as an effective way to filter content is only possible if there is a unified global law in place. This is not possible as all countries have their separate agendas, goals, aspirations and other differing reasons,” she continued.
Student Muhamad Akmal Mohammad said rather than rely on content censorship which has technology limitations and inadequacies, a piece of objectionable information can be countered with feedback. This should be done in an intelligent manner, like answering the issues which were expressed by videos in YouTube, by producing videos, or maybe research papers.
“When it comes to sensitive issues, it is normal to see people get angry. It is, in fact, necessary to get angry to show that we are concerned about the issue, but being angry alone won’t help much in dealing with such issues and situations. Speculations arouse because people want to talk about something, but they actually don’t know much about it. Or even if they do know, they only know about it on the surface.
“If we are to provide them with what’s what, how’s how and why’s why regarding the issues they are speculating, we are actually doing two things here: putting a full-stop on the speculation, and spreading the truth. Isn’t that good?” said Muhamad.
For Janet Chan, chief executive officer of interactive marketing specialist Tyraco Sdn Bhd, learning to recognise what is right and what is wrong is the only way to avoid the negative impact of the Internet.
“The Internet, in my opinion, should not be barred as a medium unless it is necessary to keep check and balance of the most precious things on earth – which is life itself,” she shared.
Chan said a person would only know if something is right or wrong when he or she is exposed to, told or learn through experiences. And there is experience in abundance on the Net.
“Sometimes right or wrong can be very subjective in many different cultures on different things. Things could be white for me and white means good and black is considered bad or evil for many. But in some cultures, black means good and brave and white is the other way round, etc. The Internet can provide that kind of exposure for us to learn from different opinions and point of views,” she said.
Meanwhile, blogger Abdul Samat Kasah feels that Net censorship is not a long-term solution pertaining to issues like religion sensitivities, hate speech, pornography, excessive violence, bomb-making instructions, and information about crime, violence and drug use. Self-censorship, he feels, is the most practical method to overcome the woes of restricting or regulating Internet access.
“People would know what is on a particular site if they already knew how to get there. It is their responsibility to make their own decisions as to whether or not this material is appropriate for them. If they feel there is a possibility they might be appalled by this material, they can choose not to view it.
“If people are not sure about this material, or if they are in favour of it, then they take an acceptable risk when they choose to view it. Undoubtedly, this material should not be censored merely because some people cannot make rational decisions for themselves,” he said.
In conclusion, where restricting or regulating Internet access is concerned, Malaysia has to strike a balance where in one hand, we would like to narrow the digital divide and on the other hand, we want to take back what is given, he added.
SELF-REGULATION SHOULD BEGIN AT HOME
IN Malaysia, matters involving objectionable online content is governed by the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA ‘98) that covers the main areas for electronic content issues. There is also the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code (Content Code), enforced by the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (CMCF), covering the do’s and don’t’s that is to be adhered to by the communications and multimedia industry.
According to CMCF’s executive director Mohd Mustaffa Fazil Mohd Abdan, the body had received several complaints on issues over Internet content that took various forms in the past.
Where complaints were of a seditious nature, inciting racial disharmony or in any other form that contravenes the provisions of the Act that is further expanded by the Content Code, the CMCF will take the necessary action via its Complaints Bureau.
“Through the bureau, appropriate actions may be taken by either the CMCF itself or the case may be referred to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), or even the complainant may be advised to lodge a police report if need be. We may also liaise with our members who are specialists in the industry to advise and implement any action to be taken,” he said.
“As the public may be unaware of our role, the number of complaints received have not been immense. However, we hope to change this through future awareness programmes,” he added.
Mohd Mustaffa said the CMCF is a strong proponent of having “self-regulation” in place for the industry.
“As we are the designated body for industry self-regulation, we continuously urge the industry and members of the public to exercise it. The key to self-regulation is that it begins at home,” he stressed.
As for the content, whether it may be “savoury” or “unsavoury”, it may be accessed with considerable ease nowadays. The responsibility to ensure that only desirable content is consumed lies with the individual. An individual should be his or her own moral guardian and to those under their respective care (for instance, children, students, etc).
“This is where the Content Code exists to provide a platform of guidance for the public and industry to determine what kind of content is considered desirable and acceptable,” said Mohd Mustaffa.
Individuals can play his or her part in dealing with “unsavoury” content via self-regulation or by lodging a complaint with the CMCF Complaints Bureau in writing, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or filling out the online complaints form available on www.cmcf.org.my.
“In the global sphere, should there be any offences that may be committed abroad and having its effect locally, the CMCF will work with the MCMC as the appropriate body to deal with such issues,” he added.