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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) denied today blocking a report on BBC’s website on the lampooning of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over his “kangkung” (water spinach) remark.
The country’s communication and Internet regulator insisted that it did not block the report by the British news service, despite a large number of local Internet users who complained of difficulty in accessing the article headlined “#BBCtrending: Be careful what you say about spinach” since last night.
“To my knowledge no blocking,” MCMC corporate communications chief Sheikh Raffie Abdul Rahman told The Malay Mail Online in a brief text message today.
The issues appeared to primarily affect Internet users on Telekom Malaysia’s (TM) broadband network.
Asma Abdul Aziz, TM's group corporate communications assistant general manager, told The Malay Mail Online that the company is currently investigating the matter and will issue an official statement later.
Those using other internet service providers reporting sporadic success in accessing the page in question.
Users also reported common workarounds to bypass local restrictions to web access, such as alternative domain name servers (DNS), to be ineffective at beating the suspected block.
Internet access is ostensibly free from censorship in Malaysia under the Multimedia Super Corridor’s Bill of Guarantees, but MCMC is empowered to restrict access to objectionable content, such as pornography or fraudulent websites, under Section 211 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
The “kangkung” controversy erupted as Malaysians, hit by a slew of price hikes in essential goods and services from the start of the new year, took issue with the prime minister’s use of the humble vegetable in a recent analogy.
Najib had questioned recently why the government is blamed whenever the prices of goods rise, but not praised when they fall, pointing out that the cost of kangkung has dropped.
The prime minister’s remarks immediately sparked widespread mockery on social media, with kangkung memes flooding Facebook and Twitter, while a YouTube remix of his comments has also been uploaded and “Keep calm and eat kangkung” T-shirts made.
BBC News said in its report last Tuesday that food is a “faux pas minefield” for politicians, noting public anger in Malaysia over the rising cost of living amid corruption and the government’s purported failure to cut spending.
Tech news website Digital News Asia (DNA) reported today security expert and freelance IT solutions provider @sniiifit saying that what was being done in the blocking of the BBC page was that all packets requesting the specific page were being dropped at the internet service provider (ISP) level.
He added that it was not a case of Malaysian ISPs being hacked or of traffic overload on BBC’s servers, pointing out that if it was the latter, the main site bbc.co.uk would have been inaccessible.
Consumer technology website Lowyat.NET also reported difficulty accessing the page, “even after changing the DNS setup from TM’s to Google DNS,” with ‘TM’ referring to Telekom Malaysia, which owns TMnet, the country’s largest ISP.
When this was pointed out to Sheikh Raffie, he said: “As I said, to my knowledge no. MCMC nak block macam mana?” (How will MCMC block it?)
BBC News posted a tweet from its official account for world news @BBCWorld today asking: “Are you in #Malaysia? Can you access this BBC story about #kangkung? bbc.in/1cpRXz8 - let us know using #BBCtrending”.
Several users replied saying that they could not access the page, though a user @bingregory said the report was accessible in Sarawak.
Khairil Yusof from NGO Sinar Project tweeted from his account @kaerumy that the BBC report could be accessed from mobile phones and other ISPs, except for TMnet.
“The specific url to the story is still blocked on TMNet, the largest local ISP. Mobile version works, as is rest of BBC News,” the co-founder of the non-profit organisation, which uses open source technology to track corruption, tweeted this morning.
Since September, Putrajaya has embarked on aggressive cost-cutting measures after pressure grew for it to rein in a chronic budget deficit that traces back to the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, and which has left Malaysia’s national debt at just below a critical legal ceiling.
Among others, Putrajaya has reduced fuel subsidies, removed price control for sugar, allowed an increase in electricity tariffs and confirmed the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST), all within the space of four months.