KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 ― Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today called for internet censorship in the country, claiming that the freedom that was granted has not been used to create “beautiful things”.
The former prime minister, who made a pledge to never censor the internet during his 22-year tenure, said there are too many avenues where internet freedom can be abused to access “filth” such as pornography or learn how to build bombs and the like.
“When I was prime minister, I was advised not to censor the internet. I thought it was reasonable and I agreed,” he said in his keynote address at the Malaysian Social Media Week 2015.
“But I now find that the freedom is not being used to create beautiful things as I had hoped. Now I have to swallow my words.
“Censorship of alternative media is needed, but not to block out chedet.com... It is needed to block out filth,” he said.
In the nascent years of the Internet, Dr Mahathir was among the few pioneering world leaders who adopted a policy to allow unfettered access to the worldwide web.
Putrajaya’s policy of no internet censorship was made an integral part of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project and is also legally enforceable under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and MSC Malaysia’s Bill of Guarantees.
Dr Mahathir, however, reportedly said in a June 2012 story by the New Sunday Times that he regretted making the pledge, claiming that he did not realise the extent with which the Internet could “undermine moral values, the power to create problems and agitate people”.
The retired prime minister today repeated his concerns, saying that moral decay is accelerated in this age of dual-income households that are depriving children of quality time with their parents.
Dr Mahathir added that the rise of social media has given the public “absolute power” to share their views to a global audience, a situation that was once reserved for governments and those in power.
“But absolute power corrupts absolutely. We all have absolute power in communications now, will it corrupt us or not?
“Like with Charlie Hebdo. They’re a fun-loving French magazine... well, many of them are dead because they were not responsible (with their content),” he said.
Twelve editorial staff members from Charlie Hebdo were killed in a massacre on January 7 when Islamist gunmen stormed the magazine’s office in Paris to protest its publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
“We have to be very careful about using power. The pen today is much more powerful than the sword of the past, because it reaches the entire world.
“We are not yet mature enough to use this power,” he said.