When I started blogging last year, I was told by a friend to be cautious and careful of the various laws and regulations of the land. I assured him that as a former employee of a government agency, I am aware of it and was ready to impose "self-regulating mechanism" to ensure the integrity of my blog.
It is no secret that the state of affairs pertaining to journalism and blogging, for that matter any where on earth, bordered on both the controversial as well as the non-controversial, depending on which side of the fence one is in. It is pertinent to observe a self-regulating mechanism bearing in mind that laws relating to freedom of speech and expression are within the context of nation-building.
As a Malaysian blogger, I am subjected to the Printing, Presses and Publications Act 1984, Defamation Act 1957, Sedition Act 1948, Internal Security Act 1960, Contracts Act 1950 and the Penal Code plus the rules and regulations implemented under the Multimedia Development Corporation and the Water, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry, which, as far as I am concerned, "stifle" the little freedom that I have to blog.
To the government, the laws are there to protect the people or organisations from "irresponsible parties" seeking to destroy or damage their character and standing in public. Not all bloggers are "irresponsible."
Responsible bloggers who do not hide behind pseudonyms accepted the authority's need to regulate the Internet. We are aware of the problem of pornography, sex, lies and sedition which can spark off racial or religious rifts.
Blogging or blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage since 2002 for their role in breaking and shaping news stories. In Malaysia, with the expanding and increasing availability of the Internet, more and more people are turning to it for information and to seek knowledge.
In 2004, the role of blogs became increasingly mainstream as political, social, culture and the arts and human-rights commentators. In the United States, for example, both the Democratic and Republican parties conventions credentialed bloggers , and blogs became a standard part of the publicity arsenal.
However, the emergence of blogging has brought a range of legal liabilities. The major area of concern are the issues of proprietary or confidential information, and defamation.
For example, in June 2004, eight Royal Dutch Shell Group companies collectively obtained an Interim Injunction and Restraining Order against a Shell whistleblower, a Malaysian geologist and former Shell employee, Dr John Huong.
The proceedings are in respect of alleged defamatory postings attributed to Dr Huong on a weblog hosted in North America but owned and operated by an British national, Alfred Donovan, a long term critic of Shell. The Shell action is directed solely against Dr Huong. The case was scheduled to be heard in the High Court of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in August last year. I am not aware of the status of the case.
In Britain, a college lecturer contributed to a blog in which she referred to a politician (who had also expressed his views in the same blog) using various uncomplimentary names, including referring to him as a "Nazi". The politician found out the real name of the lecturer (she wrote under a pseudonym) via the ISP and successfully sued her.
In Singapore, two ethnic Chinese were imprisoned under the republic's anti-sedition law for posting anti-Muslim remarks in their blogs.
As lawyer-politician Dr Rais Yatim once said, "However advance the cyber world may be, Malaysia's security and the public order laws will remain a balancing factor for a long time to come. They are the insurance premium for the peace of the majority."
Responsible bloggers need not worry. We are aware of our rights, we know where the border-line is and we write without prejudice.