Putrajaya weighing new leash for news portals, blogs

The planned amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 would require online news practitioners as well as bloggers to register with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) before they are allowed to operate. — A
The planned amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 would require online news practitioners as well as bloggers to register with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) before they are allowed to operate. — A

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Laws to regulate news portals in the same manner as print media are currently being studied, with a possibility that these could also extend to blogs that publish news online.

The planned amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 would require online news practitioners as well as bloggers to register with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) before they are allowed to operate.

It is understood that the proposal is aimed at controlling the dissemination of defamatory and unverified news, although scant details on the planned measures are currently available.

The Communications and Multimedia Ministry has begun preliminary discussions on possible enforcement, and has contacted relevant parties such as the Home Ministry for feedback, according to Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed.

“The proposal is an amendment to the CMA, which is to compel all online media practitioners to register with the MCMC if they want to operate,” Nur Jazlan said.

“Online media practitioners would include news portals, blogs,” he told Malay Mail Online, adding that the suggestion was first mooted by the Communications and Multimedia industry late last year.

But the Pulai MP declined to elaborate on thresholds that must be crossed before for news organisations would be compelled to register, what would constitute a breach of the proposed “registration guidelines”, or the possible penalties.

Journalists with online news outlets must already register with Putrajaya in order to cover official events, although the organisations themselves are not currently subject to specific rules or regulations beyond those applicable to the general public.

Up until recently, Putrajaya did not have laws to wield specifically against news outlets that publish allegedly false news, unlike the revocation of print permits necessary for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals.

“The plan is have MCMC regulate online media practitioners, just like how print media is regulated by the relevant ministry,” Nur Jazlan explained.

Under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the home minister has the power to suspend a print publication. In 2014, the government removed a requirement for print media organisations to apply for printing permits annually, although these may still be suspended at any time.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said that the proposal is an amendment to the CMA, which is to compel all online media practitioners to register with the MCMC if they want to operate.― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said that the proposal is an amendment to the CMA, which is to compel all online media practitioners to register with the MCMC if they want to operate.― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

News about the government’s plan for compulsory registration for online publications first emerged when Nur Jazlan said that the Home Ministry wanted bloggers registered with the MCMC in order for authorities to be able to monitor comments and articles which are defamatory in nature.

A source with the MCMC confirmed the proposal to make it compulsory for online portals and blogs to be officially registered, but stressed that the matter was still at a preliminary stage.

“I do not know why the deputy minister has chosen to speak about this; it is still just a proposal. We are still in the planning stages, (and) we are still coordinating with the relevant ministries.

“Tabling amendments to the CMA will take some time; internally, yes, we are talking about this, but whether or not (such plans) will be viable here has yet to be determined,” the MCMC source told Malay Mail Online.

Among the models said to be under consideration include Singapore’s move to register news sites with readerships over a specified size and requiring these to put up a behaviour bond of S$50,000 (RM150,499).

When contacted, MCMC strategic communications director Sheikh Raffie Abd Rahman declined to comment on the matter, stressing only that the commission diligently monitors online content and acts on complaints lodged by the public.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) told Malay Mail Online that they have not received any proposals to amend the CMA to include the mandatory registration of new portals and blogs.

“It is probably still at the discussion stage, perhaps that is why the AGC has not received it yet.

“When the relevant ministry has finalised their draft for a new law or amendments to an existing one, only then will it be sent to the AGC to be scrutinised,” the spokesman said.

Repeated attempts to contact the Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak as well as his deputy, Datuk Jailani Johari, regarding the matter went unanswered.

The proposal would be a further step back from Putrajaya’s original pledge to leave Internet access in Malaysia uncensored, which it made when it first established the Multimedia Super Corridor in the 1990s.

The guarantee has since been broken and the government sporadically blocks sites deemed unsuitable for local consumption, such as pornographic sites, or those considered to have violated local laws.

On March 8, Jailani told Parliament that the MCMC has blocked 52 new media websites and investigated 14 social media abuse cases since the setting up of the Special Committee to Combat Abuse of Social Media back in January.

Jailani said the aim of the committee, chaired by Salleh Said and comprising the Royal Malaysia Police, MCMC and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, was to strengthen the Internet and form a new media regulatory mechanism.

Last month, news portal The Malaysian Insider (TMI) was blocked due to a news report quoting an anonymous source on a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) advisory panel which contradicted official statements by the commission.

Minister Salleh Said had said that in doing so, the portal had breached Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 — which deals with the improper use of network facilities or network services, that include content that is “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

TMI ceased operations yesterday.

Prior to that, self-styled whistleblower site Sarawak Report was blocked last year by the MCMC for allegedly publishing unverified news and remains inaccessible to most Internet users here.