There is an obvious lack of misunderstanding about the so called freedom of speech in cyberspace. Too many people think that they are free to say anything about everything in any way they like in cyberspace.
This misconception is further compounded by some of our Ministers’ statements that “special laws or rules” will be made to govern publications in cyberspace. Those kind of statements give the impression that the cyberspace is not governed by our “normal” laws and that whatever is published in cyberspace is not subject to such laws. Hence the necessity for “special laws or rules” to govern publications in cyberspace.
That is one of the most biggest misconceptions in this new millennium.
In so far as Malaysia is concerned, the only laws which do not govern the cyberspace is the necessity for licenses or permits before a publication is made. Apart from that, I can’t think of any laws which do not apply to the cyberspace, especially when it comes to publications of materials, be it in audio, video or written form.
If somebody publishes an article in cyberspace about another person’s character which is not true and that publication adversely affects the person’s character or credibility, the law of defamation applies just as it does if such publication was made in a magazine or newspaper. It is as simple as that. For those who would like further reference on this, just go and read Dow Jones & Co Inc v Gutnick  HCA 56 (Australian High Court).
The mere fact that our government has issued the Bill of Guarantee does not in any way mean that we can do whatever we like in cyberspace. All publications in cyberspace are still subject to the laws. Pure and simple.
The only thing about the cyberspace is anonymity. That makes it a bit more difficult for the prosecution to prove that the maker of the offending publication is the accused person. How does the prosecution prove that the accused person was the actual person who published the offending publication?
The second thing which poses a difficult issue in any prosecution for offending publications in cyberspace is jurisdiction. The Gutnick’s case above demonstrates that.
In short, I am writing this in Kuala Lumpur. This article is stored in digital form in a server somewhere in the world. I must confess I do not know where the server is. It could be in Timbuktu for all I know.
As and when you hit on this blog from your computer in say Ipoh, this blog will appear on your monitor. You will then read what I have written in Ipoh.
Let’s just say I am sued in Kuala Lumpur for defamation for my article. The question is whether the Courts in Kuala Lumpur would have the jurisdiction to try my case. That would depend where the publication was made.
Questions regarding jurisdiction is imperative because a Court can only try a case which is within it’s territorial jurisdiction.
In a normal hard copy publication, it is easy to determine jurisdiction. Publication is deemed to have happened at the place the hard copy of the offending article is read. But in a publication on the internet, the article s stored somewhere in the cyberworld. When somebody access the article by clicking on its url, only then the article would appear on the monitor of that somebody. Being so, can it be said that the writer had “published” the article when in actual fact it was the reader who had “accessed” the writer’s article? All these are vex legal and factual questions.
In the week preceding the Bersih rally, a certain lady published a twitter post. That twitter post can be read here.
Considering the circumstances prevailing at the time of the publication of that twitter post, my immediate reaction upon reading that post was one of absolute wonderment at her IQ level. How stupid was that?
Now it is alleged that she is actually a video journalist for Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng. She is actually under the employment of the state government!
We have read of how an over-enthusiastic officer of the Prime Minister had asked that crucifixes be removed from a church during the PM’s visit to a Church earlier this year. We have also heard of many closed-door seminars where some civil servants made some really nonsensical racist remarks about non-Malays.
The condemnations and ridicules which came in from all sides against such acts were swift, intense and hard-hitting.
Can we all imagine what kind of condemnation against the BN government would be had the above twitter post been posted by a federal civil servant?
I think that particular twitter post was uncalled for, most particularly considering the circumstances under which it was made, namely, during the week preceding the Bersih rally. If I were to be nasty, I would say that twitter post carried with it an insidious intention.
Above all, I find that twitter post really, for the lack of a better word, stupid.
I don’t know whether the state government or Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng should apologise. But if I were him, I would be close to sacking her, frankly speaking.
As the story goes, of course, in the normal scheme of thing in Malaysia nowadays, a certain very concerned citizen, Mr Tony Yew lodged a police report against her. Now she is under investigation.
Malaysiakini reports that the police had gone to her house, checked some files and confiscated an iMac computer including a modem and took some snapshots of her twitter account.
Hahahahhahaha…first of all, this is a classic operation by our men in blue. What are they investigating? Apparently an offence under the Sedition Act arising from her twitter post. Why the need to confiscate her computer and modem? What would the computer and modem show? How are those gadgets going to assist them in the investigation? Why didn’t they confiscate the mouse as well? And what about the keyboard?
As for the snapshots of her twitter account, haven’t our police heard of screen save or printing the screen?
Oh, Mr Tony Yew. I remember him.
I am not a follower of his twitter account. Nor was he a follower of mine.
One day I was told by one of my follower that a certain Tony Yew had been criticising one of my article without tagging me. I could not care less. Everybody criticises my articles anyway.
During the week preceding the Bersih rally, I was, on some days, engaged in a rather engaging and civil discourse about the rally with YB Dato’ Abdul Rahman Dahlan. I was telling the YB – not to say that he needed any telling, though – about the right of the people to assemble and the duties of the police to maintain an orderly and safe assembly. The good YB was saying that the assembly would be harmful to public order.
We were engaging each other in a very civil manner and that was not the first time we did so. YB Rahman Dahlan is one of the few BN MPs with whom I find pleasure to engage on several issues on twitter.
In the middle of our friendly debate, suddenly one Tony Yew chipped in with a twitter post addressed to me and the YB. That post says something to the following effect;
“Why don’t you stick to what you do best? Reality and theory not the same.”
My first reaction was “wtf”? Who the flinking shyte is this guy? Stick to what I do best? Why don’t I stick it up yours, I was thinking.
And so I replied:
“Tony Yew or whatever your name, why don’t YOU stick to what you do best and don’t come and disturb me and my timeline?”
He never came back to disturb me again after that.
You see, apart from the usual laws and rules being applicable to the cyberworld, the usual unwritten laws about good manners and civility also apply while we are in cyberspace. So, if nobody, in real life, should barge in another person’s bedroom – what more, when they do not know each other – nobody should barge in another person’s space in cyberworld without the normal courtesy.
Just in case anybody doesn’t know that.