You are on page 1of 25


Media Environment (Martin Murphy Group Leader)

With a population of 29 million people, Malaysia boasts one of the most diverse and
multilingual media environments in the world. At last count, it had over 40 different
print newspapers in Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil, and Dutch. It also hosts at least nine
online newspapers in various languages. This partly reflects the countrys diverse ethnic
makeup, which consists of Malays (50%), Chinese (23%), Indian (11%), and indigenous
groups (11%).
As in other middle-income Asian countries, Malaysias media includes television, radio,
newspapers, and web-based media, including numerous active bloggers. However,
despite the industrys apparent diversity, many media outlets are either owned directly by
the government or by parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional (United Front) coalition
government. For example, Malaysias largest political party, the United Malays National
Organisation (UMNO), owns the Media Prima Group, a vast media empire consisting of
television networks, radio stations and print media, including Malaysias largest
circulation newspaper.
Print Media
The most prominent newspapers include The Star, New Straits Times, the Sun, Harian
Metro, Utusan Malaysia, Sin Chew, Jit Poh, and Nanyang Siang Pau. Print newspapers
must renew their publication licenses annually, and the Home Minister can suspend or
revoke publishing permits. One of the biggest obstacles to free press in Malaysia is
getting new licenses to operate print media, even though a media outlet may already have
a large online presence.
The Star is the largest English-language daily in Malaysia, with an average daily
circulation of 290,000 copies and overall readership of almost 1.1 million. In tabloid
format, it recently overtook the New Strait Times whose daily circulation dropped from
180,000 in the early 2000s to as low as 80,000 due to its lopsided reporting of Anwar
Ibrahims sacking as Deputy Prime Minister in 1998 and his subsequent corruption and
sodomy trial. The Star is majority-owned by the Chinese Malaysian Association, the
second-largest party in the ruling coalition.
The largest Malay daily is Harian Metro, owned by the government-run Media Prima
group, with a daily circulation of 394,000 in 2012, up from 210,000 in 2006. Its overall
readership is 3.7 million. Analysts attribute its rise to the newspapers culture and
lifestyle content, which has attracted younger readers. The paper overtook Utusan
Malaysia partly due the latters alleged biased reporting that resulted in its daily
circulation dropping to 180,000 last year from 210,000 in 2006.
According to a May 2013 report on Malaysia by the Open Society Foundations, overall
readership of newspapers in the country increased between 2005 and 2011, but this

mainly represented a shift from more serious national dailies to tabloids. Readership of
Chinese dailies also increased slightly during this period. This may be because, while the
English and Malay language newspapers are more similar in content and style, Chinese
papers have developed more independently, with some employing more sensational
reporting, often evident in their crime reporting. They are also more willing to criticize
the government. The Chinese-language medias relative independence was demonstrated
in a 2008 survey, in which consumers rated them as having the most balanced election
coverage compared with other media. (See Appendix 1)
Television and Radio
Television is the most popular means of media consumption in Malaysia, with two main
players, state-owned Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) and privately owned, but progovernment, Media Prima Group. RTM operates two free-to-air territorial local
television channels and 32 radio channels nationwide, while Media Prima is the parent of
four television and three radio channels. Privately owned Astro All Asia runs Malaysias
only satellite TV network. State-affiliated outlets typically reflect government views in
their coverage, but even privately owned televisions stations, which typically have close
ties to the ruling coalition, normally exercise self-censorship. (See Appendix 2)
Online Media
Because mainstream media in Malaysia is tightly controlled by the government, the
country has an active alternative and social media, evidenced by such popular news
portals as Malaysiakini (the countrys top news website) and The Malaysia Insider.
These and other online news sites are relatively free of government censorship as a result
of the governments pledge not to restrict the Internet despite its control over much of
traditional mass media, but they are by no means completely free from government
Over 17 million Malaysians are online, a 61% penetration rate, and social media is
growing rapidly. Nearly two-thirds of Internet users are aged 21 to 40. Leading
government and opposition figures are active on both Facebook and Twitter. (See
Appendix 3)
This has resulted in increased readership of news sites online. In April 2012,
Malaysiakini received over 400,000 unique visitors a day, more than double the number
it received two years before. News aggregators such as and are also highly popular.
Malaysians are also heavy users of social media. In December 2011, there were more
than 12 million Facebook users, representing 46% of the population and 71% of total
Internet users. A 2010 survey by a global research group, TNS, found that Malaysians
have the highest number of Facebook friends in the world, averaging 233 friends each.
Malaysians also spent the most time on social networking sites, averaging nine hours per
week. As of April 2013, there were about 1.3 million Twitter users in the country.

Government Controls and Censorship

Given the extensive government control over Malaysias media, the lack of improvement
in overall press freedoms, and the increasing difficulty in gaining access to information,
the NGO group Reporters Without Borders in its 2013 World Press Freedom Index
downgraded Malaysia from an already low122 in 2012 to 145 in 2013 out of 179
countries. In May 2012, the NGO wrote to Malaysias prime minister, urging him to
guarantee press freedoms, stressing that, the media are exposed to censorship and
violence and where their independence is severely curtailed by the ruling coalitions
political meddling.
The letter called, in particular, for the immediate reversal of the governments decision to
refuse to issue a print publications license to the Malaysiakini news website, a decision
which has been appealed to Malaysias supreme court. Reporters Without Borders went
on to say that, this decision has highlighted the governments determination to control
news and information and its fear of the independent media that are developing in
Malaysia. Similarly, the NGO Freedom House, in its 2013 report Freedom of the Press,
categorized Malaysias press status as Not Free. It also drew attention to
Malaysiakinis problems, and highlighted several instances of physical harassment of
journalists in 2012.
The U.S. State Departments 2012 Human Rights Report noted that, while the
constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, the government restricted
freedom of expression and intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship.
Government representatives cited protection of national security, public order and
friendly relations with other countries as reasons for restrictions on the media. The
report stated that, printers were often reluctant to print publications that were critical of
the government for fear of reprisals. Such policies, together with anti-defamation laws,
inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in extensive selfcensorship.
According to the U.S State Departments report, the Malaysian government responded to
these criticisms by arguing that censorship provisions ensured that the media did not
disseminate distorted news and were necessary to preserve harmony and promote
peaceful coexistence. But the report also said that despite these restrictions, publications
of opposition parties, social action groups, unions, Internet news sites, and other private
groups actively covered opposition parties and frequently printed views critical of
government policies. The English, Malay, and Chinese press sometimes provided
alternative news on sensitive issues, as did online media and bloggers.
Many of these restrictions have their basis in several laws that critics for years have
sought to overturn or amend. These include the 1948 Sedition Law, the Internal Security
Act and the new Security Offences Act (dubbed the white terror), the Official Secrets
Act, and the1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act, whose recent amendments
journalists see as insufficient in many ways. These are addressed on later sections.

Licensing and Ownership (LIU Peng)

Licensing and ownership are two of the main tools that the Malaysian government and
pro-government political parties use to control media in the country. Strict licensing
regulations are extended to almost all of Malaysias media, particularly the print media.
With the arrival of new media, licensing and ownership regulations may be becoming
less effective, particularly in the online space.
There is no single licensing law in Malaysia. Instead, several regulations are used to
restrict or issue licenses. Critics say the control of licenses is a form of censorship, which
violates the constitution and deviates from global standards. Denying or withdrawing
licenses is one of the most common ways the government punishes or seeks revenge on
the media when it departs from government guidelines or is too critical. The record
shows that independent media, i.e., those not linked closely to the government, have a
difficult time obtaining licenses.
As early as 1999, journalists started petitioning the government to abolish Malaysias
licensing laws and rules on self-regulation. Despite years of debate, Malaysia has seen
little progress. The case of online news site Malaysiakini exemplifies the difficulties
media face in obtaining print licenses. As one of the most popular and influential online
independent news sites, Malaysiakini has been seeking for more than a decade a print
publishing license to supplement its online presence. Although a Malaysian court ruled
in 2012 that, to publish a newspaper is a fundamental right -- the first time the courts
had done so in Malaysiakinis case -- the government still rejected its application on
national security grounds. While the court ruled that the Malaysian government should
not deny Malaysiakinis application for print publishing, based on the principle of
freedom of expression, the government ignored the ruling and denied the online news
organization a license.
While Malaysias print media continues struggling with licensing requirements, online
media is firmly establishing itself in what is considered an extralegal area. Malaysias
online media have much more freedom than traditional media, since the licensing and
censorship system is not being applied to online journalism. So far, no website has been
closed due to licensing regulations. As a sign of the governments willingness to see
moderate reforms take place, several top government officials and party leaders have
stated in their public speeches that they will allow genuine freedom of speech in
Malaysias online media. For example, if a newspaper touches on a politically sensitive
issue and is censored, it should still be able to publish the same content online. The one
condition, however, is that the online media and the printed publication need to be
financially independent from each other.

Similarly, there is no explicit provision in Malaysian law regulating the ownership of

media. Media monopolies and cross-ownership companies are permissible in Malaysia,
with the result that numerous media outlets are controlled by a few consolidated news
conglomerates, most of which are closely related or directly owned by the government or
large political parties.
As noted, Media Prima is the largest media organization in Malaysia, with four television
channels, three radio stations, and three newspapers. The ruling coalition, Barisan
Nasional, which has been in power since 1973, owns almost 20 percent of Media Prime,
according to the reports from The Edge.
The Barisan Nasional also owns other key media groups via their component parties or
related individuals. A Barisan Nasional component party, the Malaysian Chinese
Association, is the majority owner of the popular English newspaper, The Star, and also
two related radio station in the same news group, Star Publications.
Another Barisan Nasional component party, the Malaysian Indian Congress, operates the
oldest Tamil-language newspaper in Malaysia. Several Chinese newspapers in
peninsular Malaysia are owned by timber companies with close relations with the
Ownership records of Malaysias media are transparent and enable ordinary citizens to
obtain information by searching the Companies Commissions records. Many
government officials and party leaders are openly identified as the directors, managers, or
chief editors of the media outlets they control.
This transparency has also helped create opportunities for new entrants in recent years by
enabling them to build their credibility and expand readership by showing the public that
they are the real media independent from the government. For example, during the
past five years, several new entrants owned by private individuals have entered the media
market. The Worldview Broadcasting Channel, owned by four individual shareholders,
started broadcasting in December 2011. Another, ABN, a new Indian news television
network, has begun broadcasting as well.
As in the case of licensing, the new online media also operate in a more open
environment when it comes to ownership. Some telecom providers started providing
IPTV services after 2010, such as Telekom Malaysia, and more independent news
websites have started appearing since 2008. However, the founders or owners of these
websites have chosen to remain anonymous, making it difficult to ascertain whether they
are owned by traditional media companies or are completely private and independent.
Optimists say that the current changes going on in Malaysias online media are a first
step in the countrys reform of its media environment. Others, however, warn that further
development of the private, independent media could prompt the government to tighten
media regulations and controls in the future.

National Security and Sedition Laws (Peter Sabine)

National security and sedition acts are used with regularity in Malaysia to silence online
and traditional publishers and curb freedom of expression in the media. The restrictive
environment runs contrary to a central tenant of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia1
that states in 10(1) (a):
every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression

This guarantee is subject to a caveat in clause 10(2) (a) which says that parliament may
such restrictions as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any
part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to
protect the privileges of parliament or of any Legislative Assembly or to provide against contempt of court,
defamation, or incitement to any offence

This clause sets the tone in demonstrating how freedom of the media in Malaysia is
subjugated to public order and morality through national security legislation.
Sedition Act 19482
This act has its origins in post-World War II British legislation, and grants authorities the
ability to curb actions that have a seditious tendency. In Section 3(1), these include a
(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any
(b) to excite the subjects of any Ruler or the inhabitants of any territory governed by any Government
to attempt to procure in the territory of the Ruler or governed by the Government, the alteration,
otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established
(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in
Malaysia or in any State
(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Head of
State) or of the Ruler of any State or amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia or of any State;
(e) to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of
(f) to question any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or
protected by the provisions of Part III of the Federal Constitution or Article 152, 153 or 181 of the
Federal Constitution (note: regarding the powers of executive branches, sovereignty and language
and ethnicity arrangements)

The penalties, as outlined in Section 4 of the act, condemn any person who conspires to a
seditious act, utters seditious words, publishes, possesses, prints, distributes, imports or
sells such materials, to fines and imprisonment of up to three years, with sentences of five
years for repeat offenders.


Malaysian Federal Constitution
Laws of Malaysia Act 15 Sedition Act 1948

Section 9 deals with suspension of newspapers that contain seditious materials, and
entitles the court to make decisions:
(a) prohibiting, either absolutely or except on conditions to be specified in the order, for any period not
exceeding one year from the date of the order, the future publication of that newspaper
(b) prohibiting, either absolutely or except on conditions to be specified in the order, for the period
aforesaid, the publisher, proprietor, or editor of that newspaper or from publishing, editing or writing for
any newspaper, or from assisting, whether with money or moneys worth, material, personal service, or
otherwise in the publication, editing, or production of any newspaper

Printing presses may be seized and offenders liable to fines and a sentence of up to three
years. Other powers afforded by this act include arrest without warrant (Section 11), a
ban on existing circulations of seditious materials (Section 10) and search of premises
without warrant on reasonable suspicion of possessing seditious materials (Section 8).
How the Sedition Act is Applied3
The Sedition Act has been used in recent times to curb freedom of the media and freedom
of expression, including political dissent and peaceful protests4. While Malaysian Prime
Minister Najib Razak pledged to repeal the act last year5, the law is still being used to
stifle dissent, particularly in the realm of social media.
In July 2013, bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee were jailed under the Sedition Act for
posting a Ramadan greeting that featured them eating bak kut teh, a pork dish. They have
been charged and are awaiting sentencing6.
The Sun Daily reported that a Facebook user who had allegedly insulted the police had
recently been charged under the Sedition Act7. Similarly, The New Straits Times reported
a woman was arrested in June 2013 for insulting the king on Facebook8. In 2012, the
political cartoonist Zunar lost his appeal against his arrest under the Sedition Act for the
publication of a cartoon in 20109.


See FMY News How to avoid being seditious (21 July 2013) for an in
depth discussion on the interpretation of this law.
Malaysia: Release activists arrested in government U-turn on repressive law Amnesty International (23
May 2013)
Malaysia to repeal repressive sedition law The Guardian (12 July 2012)
Alvin and Vivian jailed Huffington Post (18 July 2013)
Soon-to-go Sedition Act still being used The Sun Daily (13 August 2013)
Woman held over royal insult New Straits Times (5 June 2013)
9 Courts Ruling on Cartoonists Suit Sets Disturbing Precedent For Media Freedom Reporters Without
Borders press release (31 July 2012)

Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012

This act replaced Malaysias previous Internal Security Act. While not aimed at media
specifically, it allows police to hold suspects incommunicado for 48 hours and gives
scope for detention without charge for 28 days10. This clearly poses a risk to reporters:
the editor of Malaysian Today Raja Petra Kamarudin was held for more than 50 days
under the Internal Security Act after being arrested in 200811.
Section 6 of the act pertains to surveillance. If security offenses are suspected, police
may intercept communications, both physical and electronic; listen in to conversations
over phone or through bugging devices, and compel relevant communications companies
to provide messages transmitted through their service. These actions must be authorized
by a public prosecutor, but there is scope for warrantless search in sudden cases where
immediate action is required leaving no moment of deliberation in Section 6 (3)12.
Official Secrets Act
This act is related to the communication of sensitive information to non-authorized
persons or foreign agents. In July 2012, blogger Syed Abdullah Hussein Al-Attas was
arrested under the Official Secrets Act after complaints regarding his posts on the Sultan
of Johor. Reporters Without Borders have questioned why this act was cited and the case
not pursued as an ordinary defamation case13. In 2007, blogger Nathaniel Tan was
arrested after corruption allegations against a deputy minister were made in an
anonymous comment on his blog14.
Section 8(1) of the Official Secrets Act prohibits use of information from government
officials and outlaws whistleblowers, while sections 11, 12 and 13 make it offences to
withhold information, communications and harbor suspects. In these cases, reporters
sources will be difficult to protect without breaking the law15. Penalties for breaking
laws pertaining to this act are up to seven years.
The Penal Code,43134.html
10 First arrests under Malaysias oppressive new security law Amnesty International (February 7 2013)
11 Malaysia detains dissent writer BBC News (23 September 2008) (Note: he was eventually freed after 52 days according to sources)
Laws of Malaysia Act 747 Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012
13 Blogger held under draconian Official Secrets Act Reporters Without Borders (5 July 2012),42967.html
Take action: help free Nathaniel Tan Centre for Independent Journalism See also http://www.malaysia- for more information
Laws of Malaysia: Official Secrets Act 1972 2/Act 88.pdf

A resort manager was being investigated in August 2013 after uploading a Youtube video
showing Buddhists using a Muslim prayer room16. He is being cited under Section 295
of the Penal Code: Injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the
religion of any class.
Chapter 15 of the code, Offenses Related to Religion, outlines several other laws that
could be used to curb press freedom including Uttering words, etc., with deliberate
intent to wound the religious feelings of any person (Section 298) and Causing, etc.,
disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will, or prejudicing, etc., the
maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion (Section 298A)17. Bloggers
Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee, who posted the Ramadan pork greeting online, are being
charged under this law, in addition to their prosecution under the Sedition Act.
National security and sedition legislation provides a full arsenal of weapons for the
Malaysian government to curb freedom of expression in the media. While proposals are
in the pipeline to reform the Sedition Act (or repeal it altogether), other security
legislation at the Malaysian governments disposal has proven to be effective in
repressing the press and online voices.
A multitude of traps have thus been set for reporters, commentators, users of social
media, and citizen journalists. There is a real threat of short-term detention,
incarceration, and fines for reporters and netizens, along with an inability to protect
sources. The result is a string of deterrents to the gathering and publishing of
As such, Malaysian national security and sedition legislation continues to be an obstacle
to the freedom of media and expression in the country. While this may be advantageous
as a mechanism of social control, it is likely to cause increasing disruption with the
growing influence of the Internet, as well as hamper the economy. Businesses that
require the free flow of information and guarantee of privacy in communications will see
an environment that is difficult to openly operate in, and may have concerns about human
Internet Controversies and Censorship (Leyun Shao)
Legislating Internet Restrictions
The development of Malaysias Internet began in 1988 when the Malaysian Institute of
Microelectronic Systems set up a university computer network called Rangkaian
Komputer Malaysia (Malaysian Computer Network). The government later established

16 In crackdown on religion, activists see a nation in fear The Malay Mail Online (August 14 2013)
Laws Of Malaysia: Act 574 Penal Code

the Information and Communications Technologies Department to promote the countrys

knowledge-based economy. By 2009, 65% of the population had access to the Internet.
(See Appendix 4)
As in other countries, the development of the Internet economy spawned several pieces of
legislation that both promote and restrict online use, including cybercrime. These include
the Digital Signature Act of 1997, the Computer Crimes Act of 1997, the Telemedicine
Act of 1997, and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
Computer Crimes Act 1997: Modeled after the United Kingdom's Computer Misuse Act,
this covers computer-related crimes and specifies penalties, as well as covering
jurisdictional and investigational issues.18 (See Appendix 5)
Communications and Multimedia Act 1998: This is a key piece of legislation that deals
with online communications and censorship. While it aims to regulate the industry, it
also states that, nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the
Internet.19 Anyone may therefore set up an online news portal with little difficulty.
This is balanced however by a section in the Computer Crimes Act that empowers police
above the rank of Inspector to conduct warrantless searches and arrests of any person
reasonably believed to have committed or to be committing an offence in violation of the
The Act also permits police to conduct searches at premises without warrants should they
believe that delays may affect their ability to obtain evidence. Both these provisions can
lead to abuse of police power.
Punishment can range from three to 10 years imprisonment and/or a monetary fine of
between USD 8,000-50,000.20 Issues previously considered sensitive by the government
are beginning to be openly discussed on the Internet, such as race, religion, and
government leaders. Many news websites and blogs, both independent and governmentaffiliated, offer competing points of view that cannot be found in the traditional media.
For example, UMNOs ideology of Malay dominance, previously considered a taboo
subject never to be questioned, is now openly debated. While the print and broadcast
media generally tiptoes around religious issues, such as use of the word Allah by non
18 Donna L. Beatty, Malaysia's "Computer Crimes Act 1997" Gets Tough on Cybercrime
But Fails to Advance the Development of Cyberlaws, copyright 1998 Pacific Rim Law &
Policy Association, (19 July 1997)
19 Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, (1 January 2006)

SANS Institute InfoSec Reading Room, Malaysian Law and Computer Crime

Muslims, online news sites are able to publish critical articles on the subject.21 The
Internet has also been a place to challenge corruption and human rights concerns, though
existing laws require bloggers to tread carefully.22
Other examples include, which is an active blog highlighting human
rights and public accountability. Another, Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexuality Independence),
relies on social media platforms to foster greater understanding of sexual rights, while
LGBT issues are taboo in traditional media. Columnists whose articles are censored or
heavily edited will often publish their original versions on their own blogs.
However, this pushing of the envelope has not gone unnoticed by the government. Laws
such as the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act have been used to
target such offences as insulting a government leader on Facebook or questioning the
provision of housing subsidies for Malays.23 The government has also attempted to
introduce online sedition guidelines24 and imposed curbs on online media by making
them subject to the licensing laws. But these plans were shelved indefinitely after a
public outcry.
Online sites that publish critical contents on the government have faced Distributed
Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks from anonymous sources during critical times.
For example, according to the Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia report, sustained several DDoS attacks, especially during significant events
such as the Bersih rallies (Walk for Democracy) in 2011 and 2012 and during the
Sarawak state elections in 2011. Orchestrated attacks jammed the site and made it
difficult for users to access it.
The report also noticed that other attacks occurred during the run-up to Malaysias May
2013 general election. The technology news site, The Verge, reported a flood of DDoS

21 Written By Jo-Ann Ding and Lay Chin Koh (lead reporters),Jacqueline Ann Surin
(reporter), Edited By Marius Dragomir and Mark Thompson (Open Society Media
Program editors), Graham Watts (regional editor), Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia, (16
May 2013)
22 Freedom

of the Press, Malaysia, (2013)
23 Written By Jo-Ann Ding and Lay Chin Koh (lead reporters),Jacqueline Ann Surin
(reporter), Edited By Marius Dragomir and Mark Thompson (Open Society Media
Program editors), Graham Watts (regional editor), Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia, (16
May 2013)
24 A.H. Abdulah Sani, Guidelines for cyber sedition to be announced on Wednesday, (1
November 2012), http://www.themalaysian

attacks and ISP blocks against opposition sites and independent media just before the
election. It also reported that Malaysian ISPs had blocked specific domains critical of the
ruling party, such as a YouTube video seen as critical to the regime.
Opposition Facebook pages have been targeted by orchestrated attacks as well. The
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), however, denied
that ISPs were blocking websites, citing increased visitor numbers as the reason why
certain sites could not be accessed.
But the MCMC itself has blocked websites.25 In 2008, it confirmed that it had ordered all
ISPs to block the online news blog Malaysia Today ( for several
days.26 The blog was well known for publishing sensational accounts of government
corruption. MCMC explained that the site was blocked because some of the comments
were insensitive, bordering on incitement.
Another incident occurred in 2010 when a blogger and political activist, Raja Petra
Kamarudin, who was the founder of Malaysia Today, said the site was experiencing
mysterious technical problems after publishing an article accusing UMNO of
corruption involving the national carrier.27
While much freer than traditional media, Malaysias Internet freedom has nevertheless
worsened, according to a study of 47 countries in the latest report of Freedom on the Net
2012: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media.
The report assessed Malaysias state of Internet freedom as partly free and downgraded
it two notches. Malaysia was identified as one of the countries at risk of further decline
due to new restrictive laws, such as recent amendments to the Evidence Act of 1950 and
the prevalence of such acts as cyber-attacks on prominent news websites and oppositionlinked sites, as well as the arrest of bloggers.
Amendments to Section 114A of the Evidence Act were the second of two sets of
amendments to be hastily made in April 2012. The amendment makes individuals and
those who administer, operate or provide spaces for online community forums, blogging,
and hosting services, liable for content published through its services.28
Critics argued that the presumption of guilt or responsibility went against a fundamental
principle of justice - innocent until proven guilty - and disproportionately burdened the
average person who may not have the resources to defend himself in court. It also
enabled law enforcement officials to hold publishers of websites accountable for

25 the Sun, No blockage of access to websites by ISP: MCMC, (3 May 2013) (accessed 14 May 2013).
26 A. Ong, Malaysia Today blocked! Order from MCMC, (27 August 2008)
27 Asia Sentinel, Malaysian Website Blocked to Cover up a Scandal, (9 September 2010)
28 Malaysia

Factbook, Section 114 A of the Evidence Act,

seditious, defamatory, or libelous postings even though they were not the authors of the
Opposition to the Section 114A amendments led to the designation of August 14, 2012,
as Internet Blackout Day, during which a host of news websites, bloggers, and civil
society organizations, including the highly respected Malaysian Bar Council, pledged to
either take down their websites for the day or support a pop-up window to promote a
Stop 114A Campaign.30 Though Prime Minister Najib Razak responded by tweeting I
have asked the Cabinet to discuss Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950. Whatever we
do we must put people first,31 no changes were made to the amendment.
Other incidents demonstrate that online media is far from being free of restrictions and
censorship. In 2010, several bloggers were prosecuted, including Khairul Nizam Abd
Ghani, a freelance computer technician. He was charged with insulting royalty for
posting on his blog,, comments critical of Sultan Iskandar
Ismail of the State of Johor, who died in January 2010. He is facing up to one year in
prison and a fine, even though he has apologized and withdrawn the incriminating article
from his blog.32
In July 2011, a Kuala Lumpur court ordered political blogger Amizudin Ahmat to pay
USD 100,000 in damages and USD33,000 in costs in a defamation suit brought by the
Minister of Information, Communications and Culture over a blog entry suggesting that
he raped his Indonesian maid. Amizudin clearly did not take all the necessary care, but
he was not the author of the contested article, which he copied from a website," Reporters
Without Borders said. "He subsequently apologized for not checking his sources and
removed it from his blog. This evidence of good faith should have elicited a lenient
response from the court and the minister, who instead persisted with his judicial
persecution. We can only condemn this excessive damages award, it said. Amizudin
Ahmat was later sentenced to three months imprisonment for contempt of court. And the
sentence was deferred in August, 2012.33 Numerous similar cases have occurred in
Malaysia over the past several years.

29 K Pragalath, Repeal or amend Section 114A, says Suhakam, (26 August 2012)
30 Freedom

of the Press, Malaysia, (2013)
31 Mohd

Najib Tun Razak, Twitter, (14 August 2012)
32 Malaysia, Reporters without Borders, (11 March 2011),,39718.html
33 Reporters

without borders, Prison Sentence Deferred,,40659.html

Defamation, Cybercrime, and Self-regulation (Rex Wang)

The Defamation Act of 1957 deems it unnecessary to allege or provide special damages
when an act of defamation is said to have been committed. This creates room for it to be
used expediently by the government and corporate interest groups to counter any voices
of criticism. It also classifies radio broadcasts as publications in permanent form.
The Malaysian government and corporate interests have used the Act regularly. In 2011,
a blogger named Charles Hector Fernandez was sued by the Japanese company Asahi
Kosei for publishing information online about the working conditions and rights violation
of Burmese migrant workers under the companys management. Though the case
ultimately ended with a settlement after Fernandez retracted his statements,34 little
attention was paid to the truthfulness of the report and the human rights violations. The
Japanese company would later explain that the working conditions of the Burmese
workers were not its responsibility and refuse to comment further. It is not unusual in
Malaysia for accusations of human rights violations to be reduced to defamation lawsuits.
Other cases involving defamation involve the suing of bloggers Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin
Attan by the New Straits Times Press for alleged libel. Both were ordered to remove
postings from their respective blogs, highlighting the governments limited tolerance of
different voices.35
There is no single cyber law in Malaysia. Rules that govern the use of information and
communications technology (ICT) include the Communications and Multimedia Act
1998, the Computer Crimes Act 1997, and the Digital Signature Act 1997.36
The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 sets out an overall framework for
governance and seeks to (1) establish a licensing and regulatory framework in support of
national policy objectives for the communications and multimedia industry, (2) lay out
the powers and functions for the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia
Commission, and (3) establish the powers and procedures for the administration of the


Malaysia: Defamation case against human rights defender Charles Hector Fernandez ended with a
settlement. (Aug 26, 2011). World organization against torture (OMCT).
NST sues Jeff Ooi, Rocky for defamation. (Jan 19, 2007). The Sun Daily.
<> [10/1/2013]
Cyberlaws in Malaysia. NITC Malaysia (National Information Technology Council (NITC). [10/4/2013]
Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. Laws of Malaysia. [10/4/2013]

The Computer Crimes Act 1997 establishes unauthorized access to computers as a crime.
It is illegal to use computers to commit or facilitate an offence, while identity and
information theft and unauthorized modifications are also outlawed under this Act.
Section 8 of the Computer Crimes Act presumes that a person is deemed to have
obtained unauthorized access if he has in his custody or control any program, data or
other information which is held in any computer or retrieved from any computer which
he is not authorized to have in his custody.38
The Digital Signature Act 1997 pertains to the licensing and regulation of certification
authorities who are delegated the authority to certify identities of individuals who
undertake digital signatures, which are also made legally valid in this document.
Cybercrime is reported to have caused around USD 315 million in losses in the first half
of 2012, according to Malaysian police.39 CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the
Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) that supports enforcement
agencies with cyber forensics and analysis and advises the government on cyber laws,
reports that out of 2,499 cases reported in the first quarter, 1,160 involved cheating, while
862 related to unauthorized access.40
According to the Security Threat Report 2013 published by Sophos, a network security
developer and solutions provider, Malaysia is ranked the fifth riskiest country globally
with a 17.44% threat exposure rate to cyber attacks. This rate refers to the percentage of
PCs that experienced a malware attack, whether successful or failed, over a three month
There appear to be no overt linkages between cyber laws and press freedom in Malaysia.
The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and Computer Crimes Act 1997, as
standalone laws, do not have clauses that specifically limit the freedom of speech, but
CyberSecurity does point out that one is committing a cybercrime if ICT devices are
used as mediums of committing crimes. For example, sedition, disharmony or unrest,
slandering and instigating at higher scale come under this category.42 The agency states
that cyber laws are not necessary for prosecution; instead, there are other laws such as
the Sedition Act and Security Offences Special Measures Act which can readily be


Computer Crimes Act 1997. Laws of Malaysia. [10/4/2013]
RM1bil lost to cyber crimes. FMT News (Free Malaysia Today). [10/4/2013]
2,499 cyber crime cases up to March. New Sarawak Tribune. [10/4/2013]
Security threat report 2013. Sophos. [10/4/2013]
CyberSecurity Malaysia.

Press freedom in Malaysia is implied in Article 10 of the constitution, which states that,
every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression.43 Self-regulation is
mentioned in the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code (henceforth
Content Code), which was drawn up by the Communications and Multimedia Content
Forum of Malaysia44 in compliance with the Communications and Multimedia Act of
The Content Code, being a voluntary industry code, seeks to identify what is regarded
offensive and questionable while spelling out obligations of content providers within the
context of social values in the country.45 In Part 8, it states that, good governance
through self-discipline and self-monitoring is the best form of administration as it
ultimately services the interest of all parties concerned.46
The Code sets out comprehensive guidelines against bad language, false content, violence
and obscenities, crime- or conflict-inducing suppositions, as well as negative portrayals
of women, children, family values, culture, race, and religion in media, broadcasting, and
advertising. It also includes a section pertaining to online media, but declares that, there
shall be no censorship of the internet,47 citing the overwhelming benefits brought about
by such a medium.48 While recognizing that the online environment differs radically
from existing media, it also highlights that the online environment is not a legal
In a study conducted by a research team at the University of Putra Malaysia (UPM),
members and non-members of the Content Forum were surveyed and asked to evaluate
the Content Code as a mechanism for self-regulation. They concurred that the detailed
guidelines provide transparency and serve as a good reference point, as it involves
different parties in the media and the general public. Some bloggers reportedly also felt
that the formation of an independent body or institution to curb the merging trend of
social media users openly instigating and promoting hatred and chaos in the cyber-world
could assist in self-regulation.50
On the other hand, critics say that the Code, in practice, can serve as a blueprint for
censorship and content control. Responders pointed out that the regulations, though


Constitution of Malaysia. <>

The Forum was designated in March 2011. It includes representation from the media industry and is
registered under the Constitution.
Content Code. (May 14, 2012). Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. <> [10/2/2013]. Foreword,
subsection (c).
Ibid. Part 8, Section 1.
Ibid. Part 5, Section 4.1 (a).
Ibid. Part 5, Section 3.3.
Ibid. Part 5, Section 3.5.
Bloggers: Self-regulation better than internet laws. New Straits Times.

seemingly all-encompassing, are ultimately unable to cover everything. The overly

detailed and descriptive regulations need to be refreshed frequently to keep up with rapid
changes in the media industry. At the same time, the Code also limits creativity and
restricts the authority and credibility of the media. They also noted that the Code
includes elements of politics. For example, Section 3.9 (g) requires broadcasters to
ensure that news is presented by taking into account the news materials and current
affairs always in line with governments principles.51
One member of the online community who publishes in the Malaysian Insider, argued
that, Such state-control has given rise to a culture of self-censorship. There are actually
no rules in self-censorship. It is a cultivated culture arising from fear of censorship. It is
not a choice. Journalists working under a state control of the press sooner or later learn
not to stray into sensitive topics.52
On the whole, responders in the UPM survey agreed that government inference should be
kept to minimum. Issues requiring government interference should be segregated from
those that do not, but the media industry should be allowed to self-regulate and produce
its best services for the public. They suggested that, internally, media professionals
needed to be trained in compliance and journalistic practices and be briefed regularly on
the Content Code. The government and the media industry have responsibilities to help
the general public understand the content and mechanism of the Code, they said.
In sum, the legal and socio-political environment in Malaysia remains highly restrictive
and not conducive to media freedom. This is reflected in Malaysias drop in rankings on
the Press Freedom Index 2013.53 Along with the governments elusive definition and
subjective interpretation of seditious conduct and content, laws pertaining to national
security and defamation perpetuate the dominance of the ruling party in the media. At
the same time, Malaysias one bright spot, freedom of press on the Internet, could face
challenges in the years ahead and requires close monitoring. As such, free press in
Malaysia remains an ideal to be attained.


Content Code. (May 14, 2012). Part 4.

Teoh, B.. (Sep 20, 2013. State regulation or self-censorship? The Malaysian Insider.
Freedom press index 2013. Reporters Without Borders. <,1054.html> [10/1/2013]


Appendix 1: Readership of selected newspapers (000), 2005, 2008, and 2011


Harian Metro


Sin Chew Daily





Media Prima





Media Chinese International




The Star






Berita Harian


Media Prima




Utusan Malaysia


Utusan Group




New Straits Times


Media Prima




Source: Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia, May 2013 (a report by the Open Society Foundations)

Appendix 2: Reach and market share of free-to-air terrestrial television channels,

2007, 2009, and 2011
TV station


Total reach (000)


Share (%)






















































TV Al-Hijrah

Source: Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia, May 2013 (a report by the Open Society Foundations)

Appendix 3: Most popular online news sites (000 visitors), 20092012

Total unique visitors (000



Dec 2011

May 2012

Online edition of print outlet





Purely online





Online edition of print outlet





My Metro (

Print online version





Purely online





Source: Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia, May 2013 (a report by the Open Society Foundation

Appendix 4
Malaysian Internet Penetration by Online Media on February 2012
News Online Media
Source: Malaysian Digital Associations (MDA)
Appendix 5
Overview of the Computer Crimes Act 1997 (CCA 1997)
The following is a summary of the offences relating to misuse of computers as extracted
from the Explanatory Statement of the CCA1997:
a) Seeks to make it an offence for any person to cause any computer to perform any
function with intent to secure unauthorized access to any computer material.
b) Seeks to make it a further offence if any person who commits an offence referred to in
item (a) with intent to commit fraud, dishonesty or to cause injury as defined in the Penal
c) Seeks to make it an offence for any person to cause unauthorized modifications of the
contents of any computer.
d) Seeks to provide for the offence and punishment for wrongful communication of a
number, code, password or other means of access to a computer.
e) Seeks to provide for offences and punishment for abetments and attempts in the
commission of offences referred to in items (a), (b), (c) and (d) above.
f) Seeks to create a statutory presumption that any person having custody or control of
any program, data or other information when he is not authorised to have it will be
deemed to have obtained unauthorized access unless it is proven otherwise.

Media Environment
Department of State Human Rights Report 2012 (Malaysia)
Freedom House: Freedom of the Press: Malaysia 2013 (
List of Newspapers in Malaysia, Wikipedia (
Malaysia Media Profile, a BBC report (
Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia, A Report by the Open Society Foundations, May
2013 (
Media of Malaysia, Wikipedia (
Reporters Without Borders: 2013 World Press Freedom Index: Dashed Hopes After
Spring, 2013 (
Straits Times: Credibility of Malaysias Mainstream Newspapers at Stake, The
Malaysian Insider, June 2, 20123
Licensing and Ownership
Center for Independent Journalism (
Freedom House: Freedom of the Press: Malaysia 2013 (
Malaysia Factbook (
Malaysia Sedition Act, 1948 (
Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia, A Report by the Open Society Foundations, May 2013
Reporters Without Borders: 2013 World Press Freedom Index

SEAPA South East Asian Press Alliance (

The Edge (
Wang, L. K., Media and Democracy in Malaysia. The Public, 8(2), 67-88
Z. Nain and M.K. Anuar, Ownership and Control of the Malaysias Media, World
Association for Christian Communication, April 1998, (
National Security and Sedition Laws
Alvin and Vivian jailed Huffington Post (18 July 2013)
Blogger held under draconian Official Secrets Act Reporters Without Borders
(5 July 2012),42967.html
Courts Ruling on Cartoonists Suit Sets Disturbing Precedent For Media Freedom
Reporters Without Borders press release (31 July 2012),43134.html
First arrests under Malaysias oppressive new security law Amnesty International
(7 February 2013)
How to avoid being seditious FMY News (21 July 2013)
In crackdown on religion, activists see a nation in fear The Malay Mail Online (14
August 2013)
Laws of Malaysia: Act 88 Official Secrets Act 1972
2/Act 88.pdf
Laws Of Malaysia: Act 574 Penal Code
Laws of Malaysia: Act 15 Sedition Act 1948

Laws of Malaysia Act 747 Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012
Malaysia detains dissent writer BBC News (23 September 2008)
Malaysian Federal Constitution
Malaysia: Release activists arrested in government U-turn on repressive law Amnesty
International (23 May 2013)
Malaysia to repeal repressive sedition law The Guardian (12 July 2012)
Prison sentence deferred Reporters without Borders (30 August 2012),40659.html
Soon-to-go Sedition Act still being used The Sun Daily (13 August 2013)
Take action: help free Nathaniel Tan Centre for Independent Journalism petition
Woman held over royal insult New Straits Times (5 June 2013)
Internet Controversies and Censorship Issues
In detaining blogger, Malaysia invokes secrets act
Mapping Digital Media: Malaysia
Malaysias Computer Crimes Act 1997 Gets Tough On Cybercrime But Fails to
Advance the Development of Cyberlaws, Donna L. Beatty
Malaysian Law and Computer Crime By Chong Yew, Wong (GSEC Practical
Assignment v1.2f)
Malaysia Internet Blackout Day (2012)
Malaysian cyber laws
Malaysia Internet Usage Stats and Marketing Report
Malaysian Website Rankings for February 2012
Opposition blogger ordered to pay exorbitant damages to minister
Defamation and Cybercrime
2,499 cyber crime cases up to March. New Sarawak Tribune.
Arshad, A.H.. (Jan/Feb 2004). Rights of accused persons: Are safeguards being
reduced? The Malaysia Bar, Badan Peguam Malaysia.
ds_being_reduced_.html [10/1/2013]
Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. [10/4/2013]
Computer Crimes Act 1997. [10/4/2013
CyberSecurity Malaysia.
ndex.html [10/4/2013]
Defamation Act 1957. Laws of Malaysia. [10/1/2013]
Evidence Act 1950, Laws of Malaysia. [10/1/2013]

First arrests under Malaysias oppressive new security law. (Feb 7, 2013). Amnesty
International. [10/1/2013]
Freedom press index 2013. Reporters Without Borders.,1054.html [10/1/2013]
Gong, R.. Internet politics and state media control: Candidate weblogs in Malaysia.
Sociological Perspectives, Vol. 54, No.3 (Fall 2011), pp.307-328.
Internal Security Act 1960. Laws of Malaysia. [10/1/2013]
Introduction of SOSMA to replace ISA draws mixed reaction from law practitioners.
(May 26, 2013). New Straits Times. [Accessed:
Lim, Y.H.. (Aug 14, 2012). For many Malaysians, Section 114A sucks in the age of
social media. [10/1/2013]
Malaysia. Freedom House. [10/1/2013]
Malaysia slips in global rankings of internet freedom. (Oct 2, 2012). Centre for
Independent Journalism. [10/1/2013]
Malaysia: Defamation case against human rights defender Charles Hector Fernandez
ended with a settlement. (Aug 26, 2011). World organization against torture (OMCT).
Malaysia: End harassment of key human rights organizations. (Aug 7, 2013). Amnesty
International. [10/1/2013]
National IT Council Malaysia. [10/4/2013]
NST sues Jeff Ooi, Rocky for defamation. (Jan 19, 2007). The Sun Daily. [10/1/2013]

RM1bil lost to cyber crimes. FMT News (Free Malaysia Today). [10/4/2013]
Security threat report 2013. Sophos. [10/4/2013]
Sedition Act 1948. Laws of Malaysia. [10/1/2013]
Weiss, M.L.. Edging towards a new politics in Malaysia: Civil society at the gate?
Asian Survey, Vol. 49, No. 5 (September/October 2009), pp.741-758.
Yap, E.. (May 24, 2012). Evidence Act amendments, a slippery slope. Digital News
Asia. [10/1/2013]
Bloggers: Self-regulation better than internet laws. New Straits Times. [10/2/2013]
Constitution of Malaysia. [10/2/2013]
Content Code. (May 14, 2012). Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. [10/2/2013]
Hassan, S.H., Abdullah, Z., Alsagoff, S.A.. (Date unavailable). Self regulation
framework and mechanism in the Malaysian media environment. University Putra
Malaysia Research Team. [10/2/2013]
Teoh, B.. (Sep 20, 2013. State regulation or self-censorship? The Malaysian Insider. [10/2/2013]