The increasing use of social media has led the Malaysian government to review its censorship policy.
It has also embarked on a new public relations exercise to engage voters, ahead of general elections widely expected early next year.
It began with the July 9 Bersih rally.
Thousands of Malaysians took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur, demanding free and fair elections. Nearly 1,700 were arrested and scores were injured, as riot police fired tear gas and water canons to disperse the crowd.
The perceived mishandling by authorities dented the government’s image.
Steven Gan, co-founder and editor of Malaysiakini, said: «Hishammuddin, the home minister was beaten by the fact that you got an army of people out there who were uploading videos… It was done on the spot, so a lot of people who were not there were able to follow what was happening.»
The government went into damage control mode.
Home minister Hishammuddin Hussein insisted that the police were provoked, and a special commission was formed to investigate alleged misreporting by international media.
The government has also resorted to blotting out each and every copy of the mid-July issue of the Economist, which carried an article about the rally.
Instead of censoring the news, the act of censorship itself became an international headline, further jeopardising the country’s international standing.
Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s department, Malaysia said: «I must say we were quite embarrassed with what happened. That’s why I think the PM decided we must stop this.»
The government subsequently reviewed its censorship policy.
On September 16, Malaysia Day, Prime Minister Najib announced wide-ranging reforms that included changing the security and media laws.
His image immediately received a boost.
But critics from the mainstream media said an image makeover isn’t a long-term solution.
Tay Tian Yan, deputy editor-in-chief at Sin Chew Jit Poh, said: «What the government should do is to create a balanced environment. Let the mainstream media have a bigger hand to disseminate fair and free information to the people.
«To amend the act itself is not enough. The government should abolish the act.»
Until then, social media will continue to be a popular alternative for many Malaysians.
Social media sparks change in M’sia – Channel NewsAsia.