Khalil said the "lies" posted on the Internet about the country's leaders including that Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad had fallen off a horse while holidaying in Argentina were "vicious" and that they had "a bad effect on the country."
Khalil said that while such lies spread quickly, it took time to put the record straight.
If the Information Ministry cannot respond quickly to scotch rumours on the Internet, where Internet users in Malaysia are expected to rise from 1.27 million last year to 1.89 million this year, increasing by a million every year to reach four million by 2004, then the time has come to look for a new Information Minister.
The Information Ministry had failed badly in the recent flap over the Prime Minister’s health condition, and it should be courageous enough to own up to its shortcomings in not putting in place a sensitive and smart information strategy to deal with an information technology society where information and rumours are instantaneous - without regard to geography or time.
The Barisan Nasional government would be well-advised not to look for scape-goats or to use the occasion for another crackdown against the opposition and dissent.
Yesterday, Star senior news editor in his "Comment" blamed Wednesday’s 11.11 point-drop of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index (KLCI) on rumours over Mahathir’s health, declaring that "the latest round of rumours is no longer a political issue" but "clear-cut case of economic sabotage as hard-earned money, involving small-time investors, has been lost".
Last evening, a campaign was orchestrated on the Internet to accuse me of the crime of "economic sabotage" in spreading the rumour about Mahathir’s fall from a horse.
At about 5 p.m., there was an Internet posting accusing me of being responsible for the rumours that "the PM had fallen off a horse and that all was not well with the man", that "the PM had succumbed to illness and that his condition is far from ‘stable’", and that the Stock Exchange, "the centre of rumours in the country, reacted as expected, dipping and dipping".
This was quickly followed by another post on the Internet accusing me of spreading "lies and rumours with malicious intent that the PM has fall from horseback and seriously ill and all other sort of rumours that is related to it", even linking me to an alleged Internet posting at a purported reformasi website that "said PM has died and his death would be announce two days later which is on Saturday". I am not aware until now of any Internet posting that the PM had died.
I was accused of serving foreign masters in wanting "the KLSE to crash like the 97-98 scenario and our economy go backwards and many of us be out of job again".
This second posting demand that I be charged under the sedition act and for espionage.
I came to know of these two postings after I had attended a meeting of the Barisan Alternative Leadership Council in Petaling Jaya which ended shorftly after 7 p.m. and I immediately challenged the one who put up the first posting to "refer to a single instance on the internet where I had said that the PM had fallen off a horse and that he is not well" or that "he has succumbed to illness and his condition far from stable". I ended: "If you cannot, plse refrain from rumour-mongering."
There had been no response in the last 12 hours. There cannot be any response for I had never spread any such rumours.
The first time I made reference to the fall-from-horse rumour was in
my media statement of 25th January 2000, in reference to the New
Straits Times report of the same day on the rumour. This is what
I said in my media statement:
"A government official source had denied that the cancellation was because Mahathir had fallen off a horse when horse-riding in Argentina and suffered injuries, saying that it was another member of Mahathir’s delegation who had fallen off a horse.
"Mahathir should end all speculation and rumours by giving reasons for his unusual cancellation of his Swiss engagements. One good reason for Mahathir’s cancellation is as a protest against the undemocratic action of the Swiss authorities in banning all demonstrations against the World Economic Forum in Davos beginning on January 29, 2000 to prevent a repeat of the Seattle WTO demonstrations which shut down the WTO Conference altogether.
"For the security of US President Bill Clinton, thousands of policemen, private security guards and military will transform the little place in the swiss mountains into a high security area.
"Let Mahathir tell the world that he is boycotting the Davos World
Economic Forum in protest against the Swiss denial of the fundamental right
to peaceful protests planned as a sequel to the WTO Seattle demonstrations
by NGOs against the ugly face of global capitalism."
"And if it is the latter and they were out to destabilise and sabotage -- should we use the ISA on them for economic sabotage? -- how then to explain today's dip on the exchange, right after the PM's appearance on TV, with 638 losers against 138 gainers, a worse performance than the previous dips, if one takes the ratio of losing to gaining counters and not just the index?"