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Saturday, August 8, 2015

What regulating the Internet means



Salleh Said Keruak

Even before details of what I meant can be revealed the opposition is already jumping to conclusions and is accusing the government of trying to stifle free speech. Maybe they should learn to wait and see what happens first before throwing accusations at the government.

Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about.

Section 1 of the United Kingdom’s Malicious Communications Act 1988 criminalises sending another person any article which is indecent or grossly offensive with an intent to cause distress or anxiety.

Section 127 of the United Kingdom’s Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character over a public electronic communications network.

To strike a balance between freedom of speech and criminality, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued guidelines, clarifying when social messaging is eligible for criminal prosecution under UK law.

Then we have the English defamation laws that come into play.

UK’s libel laws apply to Internet publishing. However, the time limit of one year after publication for libel suits does not apply to Internet publishing because each incidence of material being accessed on the Internet is defined as a new publication. As a result, many newspapers and journals do not publish controversial material in their on-line archives due to a fear of potential libel suits.

Then we have contempt of court issues to take into consideration.

In the UK there is a limit to freedom of speech and freedom of speech would exclude prior restraint, restrictions on court reporting including names of victims and evidence and prejudicing or interfering with court proceedings, prohibition of post-trial interviews with jurors, and scandalising the court by criticising or murmuring judges.

The use of social media to comment on a legal case can constitute contempt of court, resulting in the fine or imprisonment of the social media user and there have been a number of instances of users of social media being prosecuted for contempt of court.

So, when we look at what revisions are required, we will also study what can be considered ‘the norm’ in advanced countries that uphold freedom of speech. We will try to make sure that Malaysia will follow the international standards. However, even in the ‘free’ and ‘liberal’ west there are limitations as to what you can say and publish. And this is what Malaysians need to understand.

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