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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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Bloggers allied - Part III

For the previous related posts please look here (Part I) and here (Part II).

This third and final section will look at the blog 'alliances' in Malaysia, and go back to the initial question of whether All-Blogs is unique in any way.

In the English-speaking Malaysian blogosphere there are the following blogger groups:

Muslim Bloggers Alliance: clearly a religiously oriented group, it was initiated by Mahaguru58 in July 2007 and is an online extension of offline interests. It's difficult to know much about its intentions or goals, as the discussion group is closed to non-members and there is no centralised blog/homepage, but it does seem to be somewhat exclusive: although the Pro-tem Secretary, Menj, states that it is open "all Muslims who are bloggers", he also goes on to specify: "Liberal Islam heretics are not welcomed." No doubt, though, by visiting member blogs one can see where their interests lie.

It seems to have a formalised structure, given that 'Pro-tem' officers are named, but the actual aims and objectives are not immediately available, given that the discussion groups that the url leads to is closed...

In terms of the categories discussed in the previous posts, I would describe it as religious, with an offline focus (this is debateable), founded by a group and restricted to a geo-political base (Malaysia).

PABS: there is no 'home link' as such for this grouping, but it was announced on 24th July 2007 by SoPo blogger Ktmoc here, and by other noted SoPo blogger Susan Loone here. As noted by Mamak, it seemed to be formed in reaction to the perceived politicisation of All-Blogs.

The meaning of the acronym is not clear: shar101 says it is 'People's All-Blogs Society', whereas SK says it means 'People's Alliance of Blogs'. I can't find a reference on the two founding members' blogs.

It is apparently still active, as an August 4th post by Ktemoc entitled " PABS calls on Government to embrace bloggers" implies. In this post we also see a statement that gives us insight into the reasons for its formation as an alternative to All-Blogs:

"As for the Allblogs*, apart from their high profile visit to the de facto leader of an opposition party, its protem chairperson alluding to support for the PPPA and some of its protem committeee members' preference for registration of only identity-revealed bloggers as members of its association, I wonder what else can it do to protect bloggers and promote blogging, as its committee had envisioned."
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BUM 2007 - the online event...

Well I have spent the last day-and-a-half compiling some statistics regarding the online aspect of the BUM 2007 meeting - I went there offline, and had that experience, so I'm thinking that one way to proceed is to compare the on and offline experiences. Here are some thoughts.

One thing that differs is that offline the meeting was (obviously) dominated by the speakers, but these speakers did not all post online as well, and those that did, did not post a lot: specifically Jeff Ooi and Rocky's Bru. None of the other speakers appear to have posted anything online. Four of the organisers posted something: Howsy, Desiderata-ylchong, Lucia Lai, and Politikus. Only Desiderata-ylchong seemed to engage in any significant sense with the issues raised at the meeting.

Here are the posts categorised by type of post - the categories are rough and subjective, and one post may be included in more than one category.

Explanation of the categories:
Engage: The post discusses some of the specific issues raised by the speakers.
In the flesh: The post mentions something about meeting other bloggers 'in the flesh' (online meeting offline).
List of others:The post lists other bloggers who were there, with little extra information except perhaps a short description or one-liner.
Social: The post discusses the event as a social event: the food, the atmosphere, etc.
Pictures: The post has pictures/videos
Criticise: The post criticises the meeting

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