Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Malaysian blogger says his site has become media watchdog as lawsuit begins

Malaysian blogger says his site has become media watchdog as lawsuit begins

A Malaysian blogger, sued for alleged defamation by a pro-government newspaper, said Thursday the popularity of his online journal has turned it into a watchdog of the local media and its conduct.
The libel suit by the New Straits Times newspaper against Ahirudin Attan has stirred a storm of protests by commentators who have said the action is a blow to free speech and an attempt to intimidate government critics. The Times has sued another blogger, Jeff Ooi, on similar grounds.
The lawsuits by the English-language newspaper were the first against Malaysian bloggers for publishing comments on the Internet.
"I started the blog to share my views," Ahirudin Attan, who runs a popular blog discussing the country's political situation, told reporters after a court began judicial proceedings in the lawsuit filed by the Times and some of its former and current editors.
"When you start something, you write something you know, something you're knowledgeable about and that's what I think I've been doing," said Ahirudin, a former senior editor at the New Straits Times' sister publications, including the popular Malay Mail tabloid.
"My blog has been there for half a year, it has become a watchdog for the (local) media," he said.
Ahirudin's blog, called "Rocky's Bru," features political critiques, and frequently criticizes the New Straits Times' coverage. He has also commented on last year's spat between former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The newspaper alleges that Ahirudin and Ooi, who also writes a political blog, have defamed the paper and its leadership. The cases are being heard separately.
Abdullah has backed the Times' right to sue the bloggers, saying blogs are not above the law and their owners have to be responsible for their online content.
"They cannot hope to cover themselves or hide from the laws," Abdullah told Malaysian journalists in London on Tuesday. "What is freedom without responsibility?"
Much of the traditional media in Malaysia are controlled by political parties or by the government, and the suits have raised fears that the freedom of online media may be in jeopardy.
The Times has said it does not want to shut down the blogs, but launched the suits because the postings were defamatory. Ahirudin said the newspaper is alleging nearly 50 defamatory posts in his blog.
Lawyer Rishwant Singh, appearing for the Times, said the defendant's move to strike out the case will next be heard on Feb. 22. Separately, a court will hear on Monday whether additional comments about the lawsuit recently made on the blog should be included in the defamation suit.
The lawsuit against Ooi, who is alleged to have made 13 defamatory postings, begins Tuesday.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance have come out in support of Ooi and Ahirudin, and urged the newspaper to drop the suits.
Deputy Information Minister Chia Kwang Chye denied the suit would curb freedom of speech, but said it would have a "dampening effect on future bloggers" and make them more cautious.
"In general, we must be mindful of sensitivities in the country and not allow absolute freedom to cause disharmony," Chia told The Associated Press.


Updated : 2021-08-01 01:58 GMT+08:00