Tuesday, January 23, 2007

CPRsouth: Blogging, Interrupted

As much of the CPRsouth's first conference was devoted to telecoms regulation and policy issues, content considerations didn't receive as much attention. Nevertheless, the one session that was devoted to content issues was fertile ground for lively discussion.

Invaluable was the resulting window into the blogging situation in other parts of Southeast Asia, in particular, Malaysia and Singapore, and to a lesser extent, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

At first glance, what stood out for me was the impression that bloggers in the Philippines enjoy a much greater leeway in what we want to say and how we want to say it.

Dr. Sandra Smeltzer of the University of Western Ontario kicked off the presentations with a situationer on the blogging environment in Malaysia. Sandra took the unusual but effective track of using Malaysia's biotechnology policies to illustrate how sensitive issues concerning government and environment sometimes whiz by Malaysian bloggers.

In effect, Sandra indicated that Malaysia's biotech policies are playing it fast and loose, favoring foreign investment over safety. Quite alarming was a government brochure extolling the virtues of Malaysian citizens as subjects clinical trials.

With a controlled press, it's quite understandable that there's little mention of biosafety in the mainstream media. But what of the Malaysian blogosphere? There, too, is very little mention.

Much of it has to do with Malaysia's stringent information controls. The Malaysian government wields extensive powers by way of its Official Secrets Act, Internal Secrets Act, and the Anti-Defamation Act. As a result, Malaysian bloggers have to toe some government line. Crossing the line can mean a lawsuit and a midnight visit from a police car.

To punctuate this situation, on the very day we were holding the conference, two Malaysian bloggers were sued by the New Straits Times for defamation. Jeff Ooi, one of the two bloggers, gives a running account of his plight over at his blog.

To be continued...