Malaysia, with a population of 28 million, has an internet penetration of more than 62 percent, one of the highest in Southeast Asia. Beginning in the 1990s, the Malaysian government made establishing a “knowledge economy” a national priority. Beginning in the mid 1990s it became a priority to get computers into all of Malaysia ‘s 8,500 or so schools.

Internet users: 15.355 million (2009), country comparison to the world: 26 Internet country code: .my Internet hosts:422,470 (2012), country comparison to the world: 53. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Malaysians are avid users of social network and micro-blogging sites. A study by global research firm TNS last year showed Malaysians to be the most popular people on the Internet, with an average of 233 friends in their social networks compared with 68 in China and just 29 in Japan.

As part of an effort to introduce the Internet and compute skills to the countryside in the early 2000s, bookmobile-like buses roamed through the provinces bringing Internet-connected computers to villages and farms. Known by the name of the Mobile Internet Unit, the bus was outfit with 20 personal computers that were connected with satellite dishes to the Internet. It mostly stopped at school and provided many children with their first opportunity to use a computer. Funding for the bus came from the United Nations, which viewed it as a pilot program that could be applied to other countries. The program was more effective exposing people to the Internet and computers than giving them chances really to develop skills.

As of 2004, Malaysia had less than one percent broadband penetration, compared to 40 percent in Singapore and 60 percent in South Korea. In July 2004, the government announced it was going to invest $210 million in broadband facilities such communications towers and wireless transmitters to expand the service into rural areas and roll out faster access to the Internet.

Freedom of the Press on the Internet

According to AFP: “Malaysia's media operates under a publishing permit system, which allows the government to shut down outlets at will. However, in 1996 it pledged not to censor online content as part of a campaign to promote its information technology sector and make Malaysia be a high-tech center. Despite occasional raids, bans and government criticism, the online media remain relatively free.

However, Leading members of the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (the National Front) have suggested making amendments to its media laws, such as to punish bloggers who publish materials that are deemed controversial and "anti-government". In 2008, Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative of Committee to Protect Journalists, noted in a special report, "Malaysia's Risk-Takers," that the government had not lived up to its promise not to censor the Internet. Three years after Shawn's analysis, and eight years after the end of strongman Prime Minster Mahathir Mohammed's 22-year authoritarian rule, Malaysia has yet to emerge as a country with a truly free press.

According to Freedom House: “The internet remained the one bright spot in the media landscape in 2011, as the country was formally committed to a policy of refraining from online censorship, enshrined in Section 3(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and the Multimedia Bill of Guarantees. With around 61 percent of the population accessing the internet in 2011, Malaysia is home to many websites and blogs that offer competing points of view. Although not all of these internet news organizations are politically independent—many have suspected affiliations with politicians from either the opposition or the ruling coalition—they nevertheless offer an array of political opinions that cannot be found in the traditional media, and play a growing role in the media landscape. Social-networking sites such as Facebook continued to flourish in 2011, hosting vigorous debates on political issues and government policies. The internet has also been a place to challenge corruption and other human rights concerns, but bloggers are still required to tread carefully. In 2011, a Malaysian subsidiary of the manufacturer Asahi Kosei Japan brought a defamation lawsuit for 10 million ringgits ($3.3 million) against Malaysian activist Charles Hector over blog posts in which he criticized the company’s treatment of Burmese migrant workers. The firm dropped the lawsuit after Hector agreed to retract his statements. [Source: Freedom House ==]

“Media observers have voiced concern about an announcement from the Home Ministry that a new law would be introduced to govern sedition in cyberspace. Although this had not occurred by the end of 2011, advocacy groups such as the Centre for Independent Journalism continued to view it as a threat to free expression online. Temporary blocking and censoring of internet content was reported during the year; several opposition and news websites were inaccessible in the days leading up to the April state elections in Sarawak, and a few months later, another episode of “denial of service” occurred surrounding the Bersih 2.0 demonstrations. ==

Internet and Anti-Government Activity in Malaysia

The government controls what is written in newspapers but has promised not censor the Internet. This decision was probably reached in part by the government because it knew it couldn’t control the Internet even if tried to. The pledge not to censure the Internet has been tempered by statements by the government that website makers would not be allowed to overstep the freedoms offered them and those who discussed “sensitive issues would be punished” but didn’t define what constituted a “sensitive issue.”

It also means that groups and individuals can criticize the government and do so in such way there their message gets out but they aren’t arrest for it. There was a lot of activity after Anwar’s arrest and trial in the late 1990s when 60 pro-Anwar sites were set up and they received over 2.5 million hits. One analyst told the Independent, “This is probably the first chance in the world to see the Internet used as a real instigator of a protest movement.”

Internet publishers have broached a number of topic that print publications won’t touch: the awarding of logging concession to government cronies; questionable judicial anointments. The government says there are dangers of racial and religious schisms being flamed if topics are discussed in a hatful and insensitive manner on the Internet.

Hackers have broken into government websites and impregnated them with images or rotting skulls and obscene messages. One hacker name Xenophoria attacked two government sites and left behind a list of demands that included an end to all corruption and freedom of the press.

Malaysia’s 2013 'Social Media' Election

Julia Zappei of AFP wrote: “Bukhairy Sofian is fed up with a ban on political activity at Malaysian universities, which he calls an outdated shackle on a tech-savvy younger generation yearning to express itself. So the 23-year-old, who heads a student group advocating academic freedom, plans to support the upstart opposition in May 5 elections expected to be the country's closest yet. "Today, youngsters can find out everything through their handphones. The youth have opened their eyes (to see) that they can change Malaysia for the better," the political science student said. His vote is one small victory for the opposition in a battle to win over youths who are exposed as never before to alternative political views online and tipped as potential kingmakers in the election. [Source: Julia Zappei, AFP, April 25, 2013 >>>]

“The Internet is the battleground in what premier Najib Razak in February called Malaysia's "first social media election". Malaysian Facebook users have surged from 800,000 during the 2008 polls to 13 million, or nearly half the country's population of 28 million. They have among the world's most extensive "friend" networks and also are prolific Twitter users. A host of independent news sites also have emerged in recent years as political agenda-setters, with biting reports on alleged Barisan corruption and other abuses. >>>

"The Internet is playing a central role in spreading information and sparking debates," said Ooi Kee Beng of Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "The young started thinking: This is our country. We can't just leave it to the old guard. Maybe we know better." Denied access to government-controlled traditional media, the three-party opposition learned long ago to get its message out online in a country where smartphones are essential accoutrements. Campaigning heavily on the Web, it seized a third of parliament in 2008, tripling its share in its best showing ever, with prominent bloggers winning seats. "We lost the social media war. We were almost not there (in 2008)," said deputy higher education minister Saifuddin Abdullah, a leading Barisan reform voice. >>>

“Since then, the opposition has ramped up its online presence, catering to the growing Internet news media and recently launching live streaming of press briefings and political rallies and a smartphone app to track campaign events. It has also has reached out to youths who surveys show are increasingly upset with the quality and cost of education, and with job prospects. It pledges to liberalise campuses, forgive some student debt and implement free primary-to-university education. >>>

“Scrambling to catch up, Najib, 59, who took office in 2009, is active on a Twitter account followed by more than a million users and has two Facebook pages and a blog. Najib lifted a decades-old ban on university students joining political parties last year, though political activity on campuses remains outlawed. He also is dangling student loan discounts and other youth handouts and has worked to project a young image, inviting fans to watch televised football matches together and appearing at recent pop concerts. >>>

“Meanwhile, legions of cybertroopers attack the opposition online. Khairy Jamaluddin, leader of Barisan's youth wing, said his organisation alone has 6,000 volunteers working to get the Barisan message out online. "We can do a political talk and speak to maybe 1,000 or 2,000 people, but we post it on Facebook and within an hour 20,000 people have seen it," Khairy said. Grainy videos and photos also have emerged online claiming to show Anwar Ibrahim and other opposition leaders in sex acts, which they have called fakes aimed at smearing them. Barisan officials deny involvement. >>>

Malaysians ‘Like’ Facebook Page Urging Malaysia PM to Quit

In July 2011, AFP reported: “A Facebook petition has seen more than 170,000 people back a call for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to quit, days after an electoral reform rally was broken up by police firing tear gas. The page titled “100,000 People Request Najib Tun Razak Resignation” was set up, the same day police arrested more than 1,600 people during the mass protest in the capital Kuala Lumpur. Backed by opposition parties, electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 mobilised thousands of people to hit the streets in the biggest rally in four years, piling the pressure on Najib with elections widely expected next year. [Source: Agence France-Presse. July 13, 2011]

Following the demonstration, the page attracted around 300 “likes” per minute, hitting its 100,000 target within two days and the number has been steadily increasing with the page showing 172,868 “likes” four days after the petition was launched. “I don’t understand why the harshness, the beatings (by police) and the tear gas,” according to a post by supporter Sofie Muhammad on the page. “The crowd didn’t even throw stones at the shops, why is the government afraid? All we want is free elections.”

Others felt the prime minister was too far removed from what was happening on the ground. “Najib is out of touch. He cannot understand pain of tear gas, irritation of chemical water, pain of being kicked and beaten up by (police),” said Longyao Phang in another posting. The premier and his administration have faced previous online attacks with a Facebook petition in October calling for a million Malaysians to reject plans for a 100-storey megatower in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian Bloggers Tackle Missing Children Issue

Ahirudin Attan, president of the Malaysian National Alliance of Bloggers, wrote in the Washington Post: “Bloggers who took on the Malaysian government are winning their fight to create a national alert system for missing children, a rare concession to online journalists who frequently speak out against corrupt or inefficient officials. [Source: The Spirder, Washington Post, November 18, 2007]

Faced with rising crime rates, the Malaysian police often overlook missing children such as 8-year-old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin, whose body was discovered in a gym bag outside Kuala Lumpur in September, a month after she disappeared. Since then, three other missing Malaysian children have been reported dead. These cases prompted blogger Nuraina A. Samad, along with Nurin's uncle, to propose a Nationwide Urgent Response Information Network (NURIN) modeled on the "Amber alert" in the United States. The system would link the police, media, convenience stores and gas stations when a child is reported missing.

Samad rounded up other bloggers for a meeting with the minister in charge of family affairs, who tentatively accepted their proposal. They expect a formal commitment soon -- no small feat, considering that most officials in Southeast Asia still regard bloggers as untrustworthy.

Online Bullying in Malaysia

According to the Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey : C) 33 percent have been subjected to a range of online activities that some may consider to be online bullying; D) 15 percent admit to bullying someone else online; E) 27 percent said their parents talk to them about online risks; F) 30 percent of parents monitor their use of the computer; G) 18 percent of parents teach them online manners; H) 13 percent of parents ask them if they’ve been bullied online. [Source: Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey by Microsoft Corp. The survey covered 7,600 children from age eight to 17. It was conducted from Jan 11-Feb 19, 2012, in 25 countries including Malaysia,, August 10, 2012]

“Children need an avenue to discuss distressing issues like online bullying to an authority figure. They need to feel safe and reassured when faced with mentally exhausting situations like these,” said Dr Abdul Kadir Abu Bakar, president of Malaysian Psychiatric Association (MPA). “When avenues like these are unavailable, children may take matters into their own hands and with inexperience, handle the situation inappropriately, which can lead to many psychological and mental problems in the future. It is therefore imperative that parents embark on a more proactive role in monitoring their children’s behaviour, especially online,” added Dr Kadir. [Source:, August 10, 2012, Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Cyberbullying Roundtable]

Jasmine Begum, director of Corporate Affairs, Malaysia and New Markets, Microsoft Malaysia, said “In my case, I have my children's passwords. It was negotiated, and I respect their privacy. What we encourage parents to do is to have their children's passwords of their social network accounts. There should be healthy communication and enough trust between parent and child. That trust is not built today. It takes a long time and it's not easy with teenagers,” she said.

Crackdowns on the Internet in Malaysia

Even though Mahathir promised he would not censor material on the Internet, young people have been arrested for "spreading false news on the Internet."

In 2003, the offices of the website Malaysiakini were raided by police, wh hauled away 19 computers. At the same time the website’s landlord told the group they were being evicted. In the months that followed Malaysiakini—know for its aggressive reporting and anti-government stance— got back all but two of its computers and fended off the eviction order but it editor in chief, Steven Gan, faced sedition changes for failing to reveal the source of an anonymous letter that criticized affirmative action for Malays and referred to “the pernicious politics of privilege that pervade Malaysia.”

In March 2007, “Pioneer Malaysian bloggers Ahiruddin Attan and Jeff Ooi were sued for defamation by a leading Malaysian newspaper, The New Straits Times. They are alleged to have defamed top executives of the English daily. The case marks the first time bloggers have been sued for libel in the country. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang expressed concerns that the action will have a chilling effect on popular blogs that have expressed discontent with the incumbent administration. [Source: Wiki News, March 4, 2007]

Malaysian Blogger Jailed

In September 2008, Malaysia jailed a prominent anti-government blogger for two years under a strict security law that can keep him in prison indefinitely for allegedly inciting racial tensions with his writings. Raja Petra was detained 12 on the grounds that he had intentionally and recklessly published articles which were critical and insulted Muslims, the purity of Islam and the personality of Prophet Muhammad. He also said that Malaysia’s Internal Security Act is not a valid law to be used against political dissidents.

Vijay Joshi of Associated Press wrote: “Online commentator Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin was already in police custody and was served a detention order last night under the Internal Security Act, said his lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar. "He was taken this morning to Kamunting (Detention Center)," Malik said. "This is definitely a big blow to the idea of civil liberties, especially in a climate when everybody is asking for greater rights." The order was signed by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who has said Raja Petra's writings on Islam pose a threat to national security by creating racial tension. The minister has the final word on how long a person stays in jail under the act, and courts can only review the procedure of the detention but not the detention itself. [Source: Vijay Joshi , AP, September 23, 2008]

Raja Petra has increasingly infuriated authorities by publishing numerous claims about alleged wrongdoings by government leaders on his popular site, Malaysia Today, which serves as his blog as well as a news portal. The government has denounced most of Raja Petra's allegations as lies. The detention comes at a time when the government's popularity is at an all-time low and is riven with factional fighting and faces the threat of being ousted by the opposition. "I don't think the government did itself any favors in attempting to regain popular confidence," Malik said.

Raja Petra was arrested in September 2008 under the security act, which allows for an initial detention of two months for investigation, followed by a two-year jail period that can be renewed indefinitely. He will be held at the Kamunting Detention Center in the central state of Perak. The center houses about 60 detainees held under the security law, most of whom are suspected Islamic extremists. Raja Petra's arrest triggered widespread protests by civil society groups, lawyers and other online commentators. Along with Raja Petra, authorities also arrested an opposition lawmaker and a journalist on Sept. 12, but they were released subsequently. Five ethnic Indian activists who organized a massive anti-government rally last year are also being held in Kamunting under the security law. The law is a holdover from British colonial days, when it was used against communist insurgents. Independent Malaysia's postcolonial government has kept it in the statute books and has used it sparingly against political dissidents, ignoring calls from opposition groups and others to disband the law.

In November 2008, Raja Petra was released after a court ruled the Malaysian government had no right to hold him. The court noted that "the grounds for the detention order by Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar for the blogger did not fall under the scope of Section 8(1) of the ISA." “The court decision today has made it very clear that ISA cannot be used for political reasons. I am not a terrorist. I am not a dangerous person. I am just a writer,” Raja Petra said.

Raja Petra bin Raja Kamarudin (born September 27, 1950) is a Malaysian editor known for running the Malaysia Today website and publishing a series of commentary articles on Malaysian politics in the website. He is sometimes referred to by the initials RPK. In May 2010 Cheras UMNO Division Chairman Datuk Syed Ali Alhabshee called on the government to strip Raja Petra of his citizenship on the grounds that his activities could affect the peace of the country.

Journalist Charged over Parody in Blog Posting

In September 2010, The Malay Mail’s lifestyle and entertainment executive editor Irwan Abdul Rahman, was charged with making a false blog posting relating to Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and the Earth Hour campaign. The journalist-cum-cartoonist pleaded not guilty to the charges. Nurbaiti Hamdan wrote in The Star, “Irwan, known also as Hassan Skodeng, was charged with allegedly posting a false blog entry with the intention of causing hurt to the feelings of others. The tongue-in-cheek article, titled “TNB To Sue WWF Over Earth Hour,” claimed that the national corporation would be suing WWF for organising the worldwide campaign which was costing them “millions in unrealised revenue.’’ The offence under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communication and Multimedia Act carries a maximum fine of RM50,000 or maximum one-year jail term or both. [Source: Nurbaiti Hamdan, The Star, September 3, 2010]

Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote: Irwan “was accused of "intent to hurt" because of a March 2010 satirical entry on his blog, nose4news, that made fun of Malaysia's state-run power company Tenaga (TNB). The charges were brought by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which was formed in 1998 as the country's online media industry began to emerge. [Source: Bob Dietz, Committee to Protect Journalists]

Rahman's post, "TNB to sue WWF over Earth Hour," was pretty funny. He joked that the power company might take legal action against the World Wildlife Fund over its annual energy-saving initiative. (Personally, I find Rahman's most recent coverage of the case, Hassan Skodeng a free baboon! even funnier.) But MCMC's response was definitely not funny. Rahman faced up to a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 ringgit (US$16,000) under the Multimedia and Communications Act of 1998. He deleted the Tenaga post from his blog after the criminal complaint was made. In our alert, we said, among other things that "The Sessions Court hearing his case should dismiss this charge immediately."

“Well, it didn't happen immediately. It took almost a year, but the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court did dismiss the charges, noting that there were no grounds for prosecution. As Rahman points out in his post on the case, having the case discharged does not amount to an acquittal. Almost one year for Rahman to get out from under the pressure of a court case. Is that just Malaysian justice slowly grinding forward? Possibly. But it's also one year of intimidation for one blogger who dared to poke fun at a powerful government-run institution. Lingering in the back of every Malaysian journalist's mind, the case was and remains chilling.

Communications in Malaysia

Malaysia’s telecommunications network is among the most modern in Asia. Since the 1980s when the government liberalized telecommunications policies, the country has pursued ambitious programs to place itself prominently in global telecommunications. In 1996 the government established a Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) as an international center for information communication technology companies to develop and export products. The government’s promotion of telecommunications also has improved governance in some ways, such as adding transparency to government procedures and increasing access to politicians, bureaucrats, and policy information. The government also has deregulated and liberalized 17 investment in the telecommunications industry and, to a lesser extent, allowable content. Foreign entities are allowed to own up to 30 percent of local communications companies. Several ministries and departments administer telecommunications; thus, telecommunications expenditures are broadly distributed and not given a specific expenditure in the federal budget.

Malaysia’s telecommunications infrastructure is generally regarded as on par with that of Western countries but is largely concentrated in urban areas. Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) is the sole provider of landline telephones, and the government owns the majority of TM’s shares. The telephone system provides good service internationally and among urban areas. In 2003 there were an estimated 4.6 million fixed telephone lines. In 2002 there were an estimated 11.1 million mobile telephone users. Four operators dominate the telecommunications market, which accounts for 62 percent of industry revenue. In 2004 Malaysia had 170 personal computers per 1,000 persons and an estimated 8.7 million Internet users (in 2003). The government has established the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) near Kuala Lumpur in an effort to become the global center for information communication technology. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

Telephone system: general assessment: modern system featuring good intercity service on Peninsular Malaysia provided mainly by microwave radio relay and an adequate intercity microwave radio relay network between Sabah and Sarawak via Brunei; international service excellent domestic: domestic satellite system with 2 earth stations; combined fixed-line and mobile-cellular teledensity roughly 140 per 100 persons international: country code - 60; landing point for several major international submarine cable networks that provide connectivity to Asia, Middle East, and Europe; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean, 1 Pacific Ocean) (2011). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Pieces of mail per person in 1999. 592. About 98 percent of all first-class domestic mail sent is delivered a day after it is sent.[Source: OECD]

Telephones - main lines in use: 4.243 million (2011), country comparison to the world: 40. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Cell Phones in Malaysia

Telephones - mobile cellular: 36.661 million (2012), country comparison to the world: 30. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

In 1996, 1 in 20 Malaysians owned a cell phone. In 2003, about 25 percent of Malaysians used cell phones, compared 7 percent in Thailand, 70 percent in Singapore and 58 percent in South Korea. In 2007 more than three-quarters of the Malaysian population own a mobile phone

Maxis is Malaysia’s largest and Southeast Asia’s second largest phone company. Malaysia's mobile phone market has reacheding saturation, forcing Maxis and smaller rival, state-controlled Telekom Malaysia, to expand overseas for growth. [Source: Agencies May 1, 2007]

In 2007, Maxis stock was suspended from trade when it was sold by its billionaire to the government. It climbed nearly 50 percent in previous 12 months, outperforming the wider market by about 7 percent. The stock fetches 16.2 times projected earnings, compared with India's top mobile phone services firm, Bharti Airtel, on 38 times and China Mobile on 18.2 times.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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