(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Minister for Information, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat clarified yesterday that his Ministry would only “monitor” information and materials channelled to the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) and denied that he had earlier said that his Ministry would “censor” such materials.
He hoped that his clarification would put to rest all confusion and allay fears from those planning to invest in the MSC and that the Prime Minister’s promise to foreign investors when promoting the MSC project that there would be “a free flow of information” stands.
Mohamad Rahmat has only himself to blame if his statements had created confusion and given rise to misinterpretations, particularly because of his reputation as a Minister more known for his “Internet-phobia” than for his understanding or support of the information technology revolution and the Information Superhighway and his previous strident calls for censorship of the Internet.
Even his clarification yesterday is not all that enlightening - as he has still to explain the mechanism his Ministry is going to use to “monitor” information and materials channelled to the MSC, as well as explaining whether the Information Ministry would nonetheless carry out a “censorship” of the Internet for the nation as a whole, though excluding the MSC.
Mohamad Rahmat said that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad would give a special briefing on the MSC to four groups on March 11 - members of supreme councils of Barisan Nasional component parties, Senators, Members of Parliament and Barisan Nasional State Assemblymen.
This seems to be the second follow-up action after the Prime Minister had expressed the need last month to explain further to the people on the Multimedia Super Corridor “as many still did not understand what the project is about because of the lack of explanation given to them”.
At the end of last month, the Prime Minister had a television interview on the MSC. Although the Prime Minister must be commended for realising the need to give more information to the public about the MSC, the fact is that his interview was more about the general aspects of the Information Technology revolution than about the specifics of MSC.
This is probably because there are still very little information about the MSC and the general lack of awareness about the advent of the information age and the impacts it could have on society.
As Information Minister, one of Mohamad Rahmat’s primary challenges in the past two years should have been to promote the popularisation of the advent of an Information Age and to raise a greater national awareness of how the information society will affect the people’s lives in the future.
Instead of being the proponent par excellence for an Information Society, the Information Minister seems to find greater comfort in playing the role of the bete noire of Internet and an Information Society.
In the past year when the Prime Minister was promoting the MSC, the Information Minister should have been popularising the advent of the Information Society to Malaysians, address the fears of many who feel threatened by the introduction of new information and communication technologies as making regular appearances on TV to promote open debate and discussion on the developments and challenges of the information society and thus prepare Malaysians to be better prepared to face the new technologies.
This is why although the Prime Minister has set out to explain the MSC to the country, he had to spend even more time to deal with the fundamental question as to whether Malaysia is prepared for the information and communications technologies - an issue which should have been addressed not only separately but much earlier.
If Malaysia is serious about wanting to be in the forefront of the IT revolution, we must also be committed to the goal of an Information Society where people not only have easier access to information but could use the new technologies to take part in the national decision-making process and have a greater say and control over their lives.
The Government has already said that it would be presenting its first batch of proposed cyberlaws for passage in the forthcoming meeting of Parliament. Although MPs would be recovening in about two weeks’ time, Parliament has not received any one of these cyberbills yet.
How could there be greater national awareness of the information revolution when the public are denied access to information and participation in the shaping of an information society?
For this reason, I call on the government to provide for a minimum two-month public consultation before any proposed cyberlaw is debated in Parliament to ensure full public involvement in the building of an Information Society.
It is not only the Government which would benefit from such a two-month public consultation, MPs would also need such public inputs as well if Parliament is to have an intelligent debate and take informed decisions on placing the first building blocks for the construction of an Information Society in Malaysia.