KUALA LUMPUR: May 28, 2008 By SHAHANAAZ HABIB
The Government will take on bloggers in cyberspace and respond to wild and baseless allegations raised in blogs.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said remaining silent was no longer an option.
He acknowledged that the Government had overlooked the need to engage the new media, which was a new dimension in shaping public opinion, in the recent general election.
The Government had not been savvy in engaging the new media and lost out in cyberspace, he said, adding: “But we live and learn.”
Najib said this during a question and answer session at the Asia Media Summit 2008 here yesterday.
He in fact has started the ball rolling by putting a reply through his press secretary Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad to a posting on Malaysia Today, a news portal run by Raja Petra Kamaruddin.
Najib said it was obvious that the Barisan Nasional Government would now need to engage the new media.
“We need to have people who are active participants of the new media, who are sympathetic and understanding of the government’s position.
“Therefore, instead of just criticising them (the new media) or running them down, the best thing to do is to engage them. Hopefully they will understand our perspective,” he added.
To another question, Najib said the Government gave the mainstream and new media a great deal of latitude to criticise.
However, he said: “There is a line which shouldn’t be crossed” because it could undermine the wider interest of society.
On action taken against blogger Raja Petra, Najib said he was charged with breaking the laws of the country – making baseless allegations and seditious remarks.
He said Raja Petra had been free to criticise the Government “very robustly and stridently” in his blog for years and the Government had not taken any action against him.
“But when certain things he said constituted a very serious attack against the institution, the Attorney-General decided that he had crossed the line,” Najib said.
Other than the new media, he said the established media too had become more critical since the elections.
“If you read the newspapers on a daily basis, you will see that they don’t hold back their punches. If they know there are weaknesses or abuse of power anywhere, they will latch on to these and criticise the Government and individuals openly,” he said.
In an immediate response, blogger Ahirudin Attan (Rocky Bru) welcomed Najib’s announcement that the Government would respond to allegations, saying:
“This is really good. It’s better late than never and it’s something for the blogging community to rejoice because blogging is about interacting with each other.”
The National Alliance of Bloggers president said one of the alliance’s aims was to get the Government to take part in blogging.
“This is because blogging is also about giving feedback to the Government and it’s great that the Government is picking up the opportunity (to blog).”
DAP’s PJ Utara MP Tony Pua, who is also a blogger, felt that the Government should be earnest in replying to issues or allegations levelled against it, pointing out that the Government should not use the medium only to win over public opinion.”
“If the allegations are indeed wild, then its response to correct them is welcome. But if it’s only to put down frank criticisms, then it'll defeat the whole purpose.”