Malaysia may tighten rein on online media

Govt considering regulation to ensure bloggers, news sites do not carry 'unverified news'

The Malaysian Insider office in Petaling Jaya on March 14.
The Malaysian Insider office in Petaling Jaya on March 14. PHOTO: EPA

KUALA LUMPUR • The Malaysian government is mulling over the regulation of online media sites to ensure that they do not carry "unverified news".

Bloggers too may have to register with the government if they want to report news under a proposal being studied, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed was as saying by the Malay Mail Online (MMO) yesterday.

The move comes amid concern of a crackdown on media freedom and as many online sites are struggling with their finances.

The Malaysian Insider (TMI), a popular news site often critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak, became the latest casualty of hard times this week. It shut down on Tuesday after its owners, The Edge Media Group, said it had lost RM10 million (S$3.3 million) since buying the popular site in June 2014.

The government is looking to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to ensure online news practitioners and bloggers register with the Malaysian multimedia watchdog before they are allowed to operate, Datuk Nur Jazlan said.

The proposal is aimed at "controlling the dissemination of defamatory and unverified news", MMO said.

"Online media practitioners would include news portals, blogs," Mr Nur Jazlan told the news site.

Online access to TMI was blocked by multimedia watchdog, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, on Feb 25 after the news portal was accused of reporting "unverified news".

The report was about the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) allegedly having sufficient evidence to charge Datuk Seri Najib over the transfer of a big sum of money to his personal bank accounts.

The claims were ascribed to an anonymous member of the MACC advisory panel, but the panel head later denied any of its members said these.

The closure of TMI, though blamed on financial losses, were pointed out by opposition politicians as a move that has chilled Malaysia's media freedom as Mr Najib set out to defend the accusations against him at home.

Meanwhile, in Parliament yesterday, Mr Najib spoke for the first time about the controversies surrounding an alleged RM2.6 billion donation and state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad's (1MDB) issues.

In his first parliamentary reply to the accusations, he said these were "orchestrated" by his political enemies, MMO reported.

"They (my accusers) indeed find opportunities all the time. But what's most important is our achievements," he said.

He added that the investigations into the claimed donation and 1MDB issues are in the hands of Parliament's bipartisan Public Accounts Committee and other authorities.

Mr Najib also chided former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad for working with the opposition in the Save Malaysia campaign.

"He was addressed as 'maha zalim, mahafiraun' (despot, great pharaoh) and now they are sitting together at the same table," Mr Najib was quoted by The Star as saying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia may tighten rein on online media'. Print Edition | Subscribe