By: Sonny Zulhuda
The Internet is now a common platform of over one billion users in the world who exchange information, trade communications and transact commerce every now and then. This is the realization of what the website founders initially sought to achieve, i.e. a two-way communications in the cyberspace where writing information should be as simple as reading it.
At the heart of this phenomenon is now the website log – or blog. Blog is not merely a new technology, but it is now a trend. Individuals use blogs to express their feelings. Companies engage themselves in corporate blogging where they capture beneficial information to upgrade their services and achieve corporate objectives, and where marketers capture potential customers while they advertise for their products. And more pressing of all, blog is now an alternative to conventional media industry where individuals easily publish reports of incidents accompanied by their comments and views while getting rid of editorial and spatial barriers of conventional media. People have now often referred to online blogs to get information on ongoing incidents day to day. Given this situation, the luxury of information is now something of the past.
However, the bright innovation brought by blogs is not shaped only by its advantageous benefits but also by its contentious side. The social structure that has long defined the way we share information through conventional media is now shaking. As the editorial rules are gone in the online blogs, so do perhaps the rules of ethics and law. Except that rules of law, by nature, are equipped by an enforcing power through the instruments of the state. This is why despite the relaxation of other conventional rules of the game; governments are not easily loosening the rules when it comes to infringing rights of other people.
Hence the potential clash between bloggers and the law, especially when the legal rules restricting freedom of speech is implicated. In many jurisdictions, such freedom is subject to many sets of laws against defamation, false speech, hatred, religious beliefs and political stability. In Malaysia, for instance, blogs gained limelight when recently some prominent socio-political bloggers were sued for defamation. Such was among the first of its instance to be settled in court.
In the light of the above, this note sees the importance of undertaking three things: first, assessing the new phenomenon of online reporting by bloggers and their effect to the conventional media. Secondly, investigating legal rules that may restrict bloggers’ activities, citing the special cases of Malaysia. And finally, identifying certain strategic measures for online bloggers in order to minimize liability risks out of their publication online. The main message is to highlight the reality behind cyber world: just because they are online, bloggers are not exempted from certain traditional rules that have long shaped our life. Some adjustments are nevertheless necessary given the special circumstances for which the Internet and the blogs are invented.
Incidents involving bloggers in Malaysia as reported by media:
- On 11 January 2007, two political bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Ahiruddin Attan were sued by the New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Bhd and its staff over alleged defamatory words posted in their blogs. The plaintiff succesfully obtained court injunction to remove blog postings (The Star, 19 Jan 2007).
- On 23 July 2007, a police report had been lodged against Raja Petra under Sedition Act 1948, the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1988 for blog entries that allegedly contain writing that insult the YDPA, degrade Islam and incite hatred and violence between local ethnic group (The Star 23 July 2007).
- March 2008, High Court in Alor Setar, Kedah ordered Raja Petra to pay RM2 million to UUM and its VC Tan Sri Dr. Nordin Kadi for libellious posting alleging the plaintiff of plagiarism (The Star 27 March 2008)
- Raja Petra was detained under ISA 1960 for his blog comments allegedly insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. (The Star Online, 23 September 2008)
- Another blogger, Syed Azidi Syed Aziz was on 17th September 2008 arrested under the Sedition Act 1948 for publishing an image of the Malaysian flag upside down in his blog and for calling other bloggers to do the same as a sign of protest against the ruling government (The Star 19 Sept 2008).
- Umno Youth has lodged a report against Opposition leader Tian Chua over doctored photos in his blog involving the Deputy PM (The Star 11 July 2007). On a related incident, Nathaniel Tan, an aide to PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim, was arrested in connection with a doctored picture of DPM posted on the Net (The star 14 July 2007).
- Chief Minister of Sarawak (Taib Mahmud) sued Utusan Malaysia, Malaysiakini and PKR officials over reports making allegations of corrupt practices against him (The Star 17 May 2007).
- In Sessions Court KL, a private school lab assistant was fined RM10,000 in default five months’ jail for posting offensive comments against the Sultan of Perak on the Internet in February 2009. Azrin Md Zain, 33, who is attached to Kota Damansara school, became the first person to be convicted in the summons case under the Multimedia and Communications Act 1998. (The Star, 14 March 2009). On related incidents (All below from the same source):
- In the same court above, self-employed Muslim Ahmad, 54, claimed trial to committing a similar offence in Setapak between Feb 7 and Feb 8.
- In Petaling Jaya, land surveyor Nor Hisham Osman, 36, pleaded not guilty to committing the same offence his residence in Seri Kembangan on Feb 11.
- In KOTA KINABALU, mobile phone shop owner Rutinin Suhaimin, 36, pleaded not guilty before Sessions Court judge Ummu Kalthom Abdul Samad who fixed May 25 and 26 for trial. Rutinin allegedly committed a similar offence at 6.33pm on Feb 13 at a shop in the interior Kundasang town at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. He was released on a RM10,000 bail.
- In BUTTERWORTH, a couple was jointly charged at the Sessions Court with similar offences. Businessman Chan Hon Keong, 26, claimed trial to committing the offence at his house in Permatang Pauh on Feb 13. His wife Khoo Hui Shuang, 27, was not present when the charge was read as she was away in Sarawak. Chan was released on a RM6,000 bail. His case will be mentioned on April 15.