KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Some local internet users complained last night that they were unable to access a report on the BBC’s website over running gags on the prime minister’s recent remarks on kangkung, leading to allegations of censorship.
Users began noting difficulty connecting to the satirical report on the British news service about Malaysians poking fun at Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s remarks about kangkung or water spinach, which was titled “#BBCtrending: Be careful what you say about spinach”.
“So apparently that article on BBC regarding kangkung have been blocked on Malaysia? Go google BBC Kangkung see if you can open it” a Twitter user with the handle @najmi posted around midnight.
Others also complained that they could not view a YouTube video of a remix of Najib’s speech that was also linked in the report.
The issues appeared to primarily affect Internet users on TM’s broadband network, with 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.
The furore over the alleged block has also attracted the attention of the BBC, with journalist Charlotte Pritchard polling Malaysians on Twitter over their inability to access the page.
“@kaerumy Hi I’m from #BBCtrending what’s this you’re saying about the BBC post being blocked in Malaysia? #kangkung,” the BBC Radio 4 reporter posted on Twitter.
The BBC report in question is a roundup of various Internet responses lampooning Najib over a recent speech in which he had used the price of kangkung as an analogy to explain the government’s role — or lack thereof — in determining the prices of everyday goods.
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.
Internet access is ostensibly uncensored in Malaysia under the Multimedia Super Corridor’s Bill of Guarantees, but regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (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.
In July, it began rolling out more visible curbs towards the access of pornography, which is illegal.
But despite the blocks, the MCMC insists that it was not censorship per se, but to inform Internet users of possible violations.