Malaysia

Where Internet Grows Fast

Fast growth in connectivity and use of the internet in nations such as Myanmar, Malaysia and Algeria is all good news for independent journalism; and bad news for autocratic, corrupt governments.
 
St Kitts and Nevis is a small duo of islands in the Caribbean with a population of a mite under 55,000. That doesn’t include tourists, whose number is always higher than the local populace. The country rarely features in international news. When it does, it’s mostly the topic of travel articles and tourism fairs. The local bromide is “Rush Slowly.” That’s what visitors are advised at all times during their holiday in the islands.
 
But life on the islands is not that slack. Political brawls and politicians evicted from parliament, suspicious deals with money from the local treasury and the role of the country in a controversial citizen-by-investment program were just a few of the peppery stories that made it into the local media this year.
 

Malaysiakini Under Fire

Malaysia’s embattled government has already offed most of the critical journalistic outlets in Malaysia. Now, it has a new target.
 
When a prime minister has US$ 700m in his private bank account, you have a story. But in Malaysia, only a few publications dared to cover it. Malaysiakini, one of the most dauntless media outlets in Malaysia, did so.
 
That came with grave consequences.
 
Steven Gan, the head editor and co-founder of the online portal Malaysiakini, was charged on 18 November 2016 for “offensive” content in two videos aired online by the portal’s sister company, KiniTV. Local observers said that the move was aimed at spooking critical voices before an antigovernment demonstration that took place the following day in the country’s capital city Kuala Lumpur. The protest was led by a local group of foursquare pro-democracy activists.
 
But the charges against Mr Gan are part of a much bigger game. The country’s government has been feverishly clamping down on a wad of critical media in the past two years. Those who couldn’t be brought into line have been rubbed out one by one. Malaysiakini is probably the last credible independent news site still breathing.
 
Now, Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak is hell-bent on weeding them out, too.
 

Internet Is Censored in Two-Thirds of the World

Many believe the Internet equals freedom of information. Recently, that has been less and less the case.
 
Maung Saung Kha, a 23-year old poet from Myanmar, was relieved last May to hear that he would be released from prison. On 24 May 2016, Mr Saung Kha was sentenced to six months in jail for defaming Myanmar’s former president Thein Sein, but because he had already spent six months behind bars, he was freed the same day.
 
His crime: posting a poem on Facebook in which a newlywed was baffled to see a tattoo featuring Myanmar’s former president on her husband’s genitals. The husband in the poem was Mr Saung Kha. In other parts of the world, such a poem would trigger a smile. But in Myanmar, authorities took this seriously. Using provisions on defamation from the telecommunications law, they justified imprisonment of the young bard in the Insein jail near Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city.
 

Who Can Reinvent Public Media in the Global South?

An upcoming study on public media in the Global South calls for major reforms to help reinvent public service media.
 
Back in 2007, responding to people’s growing dissatisfaction with the commercial news media in Taiwan, PTS, the country’s public television service launched PeoPo, a portal that was designed to host video reports made by citizens. Part of the project was also a training program that was intended to teach citizens how to create such reports.
 
The project was a sensation.
 
The number of video-making citizens exceeded 3,400 by 2009 and was close to 7,400 in 2013, according to a RIPE report. Half of those who enrolled in this program are youths aged between 21 and 30. PeoPo concluded collaboration agreements with over 200 NGOs and 15 college news centers to hold training sessions. It cost PST a frugal US$200,000 a year to fund this project.
 
All in all, this is truly an example of the development of public service media at its finest.
 
However, unfortunately this is a comparatively rare example of success in such development so far. In fact, the state of public media in the Global South (defined as Africa, Latin America and developing Asia, including Middle East) is far from rosy. Most are struggling with a spate of structural problems coupled with political pressures.