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Dr Mahathir on blogs and the media in Malaysia

This is an account of the speech by Tun Dr Mahathir at the Bloggers Universe Malaysia 2009 blogmeet, and some thoughts about blogs in Malaysia. It's a bit long, but I thought it worthwhile to recount what he said (about blogs) in some detail.

A very brief historical outline
Love him or hate him, most Malaysians would agree that Tun Dr Mahathir is the single most influential person in twentieth century Malaysia, and he still has enormous stature and influence as we near the end of this first decade of the twenty-first. Educated as a medical doctor, and initially working as a civil servant, he won a parliamentary seat for UMNO (the dominant Malaysian party since Merdeka (Independence)) in 1964. He lost the seat in 1969, and afterwards was sacked from the UMNO Supreme Council for openly criticising the then Prime Minister; he went on to write the controversial book 'The Malay Dilemma', which - although it was banned until 1981 - laid the ideological foundation of the 'New Economic Program', a positive discrimination scheme aimed at reducing poverty and redressing the economic balance between the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. He rejoined UMNO in 1972, and eventually rose to being Deputy Prime Minister in 1978, and PM in 1981. From then on until October 2003, he presided over a period of accelerated development that transformed the country (source: Mahathir bin Mohamad).

In terms of blogging, he has significance in three ways. Laws that restricted the action of the mainstream media (MSM) were passed during his time (namely - the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984), and he was also infamous for closing down newspapers in the Ops Lalang in 1987. He established the principle of no censorship on the Internet in the Communications & Multimedia Act in 1998 (however section 233 of this Act that addresses "Improper use of network facilities or network service" (MSC Malaysia) has recently been invoked to charge some internet users - e.g. here or here). Last but not least, in 2008 he started his own blog - Che Det - which rapidly became the most popular blog in Malaysia, attracting one million visitors in the first month, and almost 19 million in one year.

So, at the BUM 2009 gathering last week, it was as a SoPo blogger that he was asked to attend, and although unfortunately the attendance for the event was a bit disappointing, he was clearly the star attraction. The place filled up for his talk, with many media too.
BUM 2009, Bloggers Universe Malaysia blogmeet with Mahathir bin Mohamad

He spoke for about 30 minutes, then answered questions for about 40 minutes. I must say that he was an impressive public speaker, speaking clearly and with little use of notes, and with a disarming charm that kept the audience interested and occasionally amused.

The speech
He was introduced by Ahirudin Attan @ rocky, ex-editor of the Malay Mail, Protem President of All-Blogs, and President of the National Press Club - and of course a leading blogger himself. He explained that Dr Mahathir's engagement with bloggers went back to 2005, when bloggers were invited to the Perdana Leadership Foundation; this was a time when bloggers were at the margins of the political and media scene in Malaysia, which was similar to Dr Mahathir's situation at the time.

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How SoPo blogs helped the advertisement industry

OK I'm dead tired - been a long day and tomorrow will be too. But here is my thought for the day.

Going back to 2004, when I first started blogging (you couldn't upload pictures to Blogger in those days), blogs were not well known at all. Mention 'blog' to average Joe and Jane in Malaysia, and they would be clueless.

Fast forward to 2009 and 'everyone' has heard of blogs. Even if they have never gone on the Internet, if they follow the news they will have heard of them. But they may not know much about them - in fact, they are most likely to assume that blogs are politically motivated tools for attacking the government à la RPK.

In fact, however, most blogs are written by young (under 25) people, and cover relatively mundane topics such as films, shopping, restaurants, thoughts on life and friends, etc. Politics come very little into them (not to say that the bloggers mostly don't care about politics, but they don't talk about it much on their blogs in any case). For a sample of this kind of blog, check out Nuffang's Innit.

And, something your average Jack and Jill don't know either, some bloggers are making decent amounts of money from hosting advertisements and writing advertorials.

So - how did the SoPo blogs help the advertisement industry, in spite of the fact that most of them don't have ads? Well, this is just a tentative thought, but when you think of it, the main way in which blogs got more well known was via the political aspect – this is what first got noted in the MSM and so on. Later on other types of blogs started popping up in the press too - 'hot bloggers', food bloggers, drug blogger,...

The oldest newspaper clipping I seem to have is from 26 February 2006 - 'Bold Bloggers, Beware!' in The Sunday Star Education section; and Shaolintiger was one of the earlier bloggers to be featured in a newspaper in May 2005. But the first time I remember seeing Malaysian blogs mentioned was after Jeff Ooi was investigated in late 2004 because of a religiously sensitive comment about Islam Hadhari (ironically, it turned out to be a Muslim who had made the comment...) - this story first broke in Berita Harian on October 2, 2004 (more details here).

So in a way the SoPo blogs attracted the attention of the MSM, which generated the publicity which enabled lifestyle blogs to penetrate public awareness and attract attention from advertising agents, etc.

Just a thought...
(OK done my post for the day! :-))

PPS founders - Part 2

Just an addition to the previous post, What happened to the founding members of PPS? After finishing it, I came across this Wiki page that describes the foundation of Project Petaling Street.
"The document that will track this evolution is the very same one you are reading RIGHT NOW. It is intended to be a dynamic document that will be updated as PPS evolves."

It seems like the Wiki died a quick death though, as it has not been updated since July 13, 2003, about a month after PPS started.
Project Petaling Street wiki screenshot

Based on the Wiki, I left out two founders, who were no longer on the sidebar by the time the site was archived by the Wayback Machine. Or maybe they were never on it, I dunno.

• Ditesh Kumar of A Tech/Personal blog. It's no longer online, but there's an archived version from June 19, 2003. It mentions PPS on June 12.
• Mohan Raj of Codeworks. A very short lived tech blog - only seven posts in all, and it has not been updated since July 16, 2003.

An interesting thing for me is the clear 'Open Source' format of the Wiki. A lot of the literature on "Internet culture" seems to take Free/Libre Open Source Software (aka FLOSS) as a model of online interaction. For example, Raymond's classic The Cathedral and the Bazaar, or Ghosh's Cooking pot markets... - these have been very effectively critiqued by the anthropologist Kelty in Hau to Do Things with Words.

Although they are not directly comparable, blogs and FLOSS do share a few things though, I think: the importance of attributing sources, and the open and shared nature of the final product. A key difference, though, is that a blog belongs to one person only, whereas OS software belongs to everyone (or no one). PPS seemed to sit in the middle a bit - conceived of as a 'community' resource, it also was a website owned and run by one person. Perhaps because of this, later on, there were disagreements in 2004 and in 2005 about 'Who owns PPS?'

This debate seems to owe something to the FLOSS ethos, and there seemed to be three stances:

1. Aizuddin pays for and runs the site, so he can do what he wants with it ultimately.
2. Aizuddin may want to run it the way he wants, but why do some get their RSS feeds permanently in the sidebar?
3. It's a community service, and should be run for all bloggers, by some sort of collective process.

Finally, the founders in the sidebar lost their space, but Aizuddin has kept sole control over it. Basically, he owns it. It reminds me of another point that Kelty made (same source as mentioned above): that the guarantee of the open software is done by, in the last instance, using the (offline) regime of private property to uphold the ability to prevent anyone from appropriating the software and excluding others - "Free Software is protected intellectual property that anyone can use." (2002:12); this point has recently been tested legally in the US and "Advocates of open source software have hailed a court ruling protecting its use even though it is given away free" (BBC)

What happened to the founding members of PPS?

Project Petaling Street sidebar in 2003
From what I've been told, the founding of PPS was an important milestone for blogging in Malaysia. There were ten original founders, and part of the agreement was that they should have a permanent feed with their latest posts on the sidebar ( AlphaBlogger told me this). So, thanks to the internet time travelling machine - the Wayback Machine , I found a screenshot of PPS on July 24, 2003 (the sidebar is what you can see on the left of this post) and had a look at who were these founding members.

Screenshots...: the seminal SoPo blog, still around and going strong. Jeff Ooi is now a sitting YB (Yang Behormat - i.e. Member of Parliament, in case any non-Malaysians read this). a tech-blog I think. Is not around anymore - here's one post called 'They messed with the wrong girl' (courtesy of the Wayback Machine).

technoLAHgy v0.15c : a tech-blog too. Still online, but hasn't been updated since June 2007.

Volume of Interactions: a SoPo blog I'd say. Still online and running - this is the blog of the person who runs PPS, Aizuddin Danian. PPS has not been all sun and light apparently, and he discusses a Can of Worms here back in 2005; it was launched on June 12, 2003.

Narratives not quite sure how to classify this one - probably 'Personal blog', but it has SoPo in it too (these categories will always be somewhat blunt). Still going, since December 27, 2002.

tv smith's dua sen: hmmm... he calls it a 'blogzine' - it's sort of like a photoblog with a social conscience... (damn these categories!). Still going strong: here's a wonderful post on monkeys . a personal blog. Still going strong, after a enforced pause resulting from 'certain activities' that were well documented on his controversial blog.

The following four were classified under 'Gambar2' - so I suppose they are 'Photo blogs'.

Still Life : no longer active.

VOI Visuals: it's Aizuddin again! I suppose this was a part of his blog devoted to pictures, but there's nothing there now.

Narratives : hmm, it's her again! I assume it's the same situation as Aizuddin, as now the link takes us to her main blog instead of a 'gallery'.

Odds & Ends: still going strong with impressive photos.

So, conclusions... umm... Well, most of them are still around - that could either be testimony to their inherent 'blogginess', or as a result of increased publicity via PPS, or both. SoPo were in a minority, as usual. Photoblogs were quite significant. Apart from that, I can't think of anything useful to say... Any comments? All information on blogging history in Malaysia is welcomed, as that's the next chapter of my thesis that I have to write!