MALAYSIA: News blackouts making blogs more credible, says Mahathir

Former prime minister says more people now turn to blogs for news, attempts to control bloggers will be futile

Straits Times
Thursday, April 19, 2007

By Carolyn Hong

Putrajaya --- Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday backed bloggers who criticise the government, saying their websites are gaining credibility among Malaysians.

The former premier said many people now turn to blogs for information suppressed by the mainstream media.

"If you suppress news, alternate news will be given credence. Attempts to control bloggers are bound to fail," he told a forum on the media held at his Perdana Leadership Foundation.

He said he believed that bloggers have, by and large, been responsible, and urged them to stick to the truth without embellishment in order to stay credible.

Over the past few months, the government has been waging war on a group of vocal bloggers, including well-known former journalists and the former premier's eldest daughter, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir.

The blogs have been a thorn in the government's side, exposing all kinds of stories, including one on the purchase of a new VIP jet and the alleged misuse of development funds for political purposes.

Several ministers have warned the bloggers to toe the line, and suggested that they could be compelled to register so that the government could keep track of them.

Tun Dr Mahathir said the mainstream media was withholding information from readers, adding that his own statements had been blacked out.

When asked to compare current media controls to previous times, he said: "As far as I am concerned, it's worse than before."

But he defended the restrictive media laws that require newspapers to renew their licences yearly, and his own record in the matter as prime minister.

He said the laws were intended to keep the media from inflaming racial sentiment, or publishing pornography, but they were not meant to shut out dissenting views.

"My conscience is clear. People can oppose, I don't arrest them. But some people are afraid that certain information can undermine their authority, and they try to stop the information," he said.

He also apologised for making a wrong statement that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi owned a certain house in Perth, Australia.

Yesterday's event indicates that Tun Dr Mahathir is ready to return to the warpath after having stayed silent for a few months. He broke his silence only last month when he spoke at an Umno function in Johor.

He is due to speak at another Umno grassroots function this weekend. There are also more engagements in Shah Alam in Selangor, and in Kedah.

Asked about speculation that the general election could be called this year, he said he believed it would be held only next year, but did not give reasons for thinking that.

He also said he believed his nemesis, former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, still wants to become prime minister.

He added that Datuk Seri Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat may win a few seats but "it's a pipe dream" for him to think about taking over the government.