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Blogging and Democratization in Malaysia – Forum and book launch

Last Friday there was the launch of the first properly researched book on blogging in Malaysia – the first from a social science point of view, and – as far as I know – the first dealing properly with blogging per se in Malaysia. “Blogging and Democratization in Malaysia: A New Civil Society in the Making” is written by Jun-E Tan and Prof. Zawawi Ibrahim of University Malaya; those of you who have been around the blogosphere long enough will probably remember Jun-E’s blog and research survey in 2006 – in a way I’m following in her footsteps, although my focus is different and I’m spending more time on it. I’m going to try to do a proper review of it at another time, but suffice to say that if you want to know more about blogging in Malaysia, and also about blogging and political activity in general, you cannot miss this book [Update 28/06/09: M/C Reviews have published my review of this book]. It also has a postscript written mostly by Zawawi (I think, based on what he said in the forum) about the 12th General Election and what role blogs played in those momentous events.

The forum last week was held in the KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall

I got there a bit late, and it had already started. There were about thirty people there, and the organisers seemed a bit disappointed that more had not turned up; myself, I was a bit surprised that there were not more of the usual suspects at SoPo blogging events.

I missed the first couple of talks. Jun-E talked about the book, summarising it well and underlining the basic points of the book: most bloggers are not SoPo, but they capture a disproportionate amount of the readership and attention, and their key role in democratisation and civil society is in providing a channel to raise issues that would otherwise probably be ignored by the MSM. There’s more than that in the book of course, which includes a wealth of statistical data on bloggers and readers and detailed information on the formation of All-Blogs and other events surrounding that key episode of the Malaysian blogosphere. One thing that it made me realise is that I have to include readers of blogs in my survey too (i.e. those who do not have a blog, but read them regularly). Prof. Zawawi made some similar points, and also pointed out how he had asked Jun-E (he was her supervisor for the MA thesis) to gather information on the ‘narrative’ of the bloggers and the blogosphere, something which has been attended to in the body of the book, as well as in the interviews with key bloggers reproduced at the end of it.

Rocky then gave his talk, covering a few issues such as the relationship between the media and the blogs, and the interesting reaction of the Singapore government to the elections (he was invited with other blogs to speak to the Singaporean government about blogs and the elections). What interested me most, however, was how he said that there were “cracks appearing in the blogosphere”; ever since the elections there have been more blogs but some are “biased… blindly working for political masters” – i.e. like the MSM. Some “bloggers are openly promoting individuals… which is perfectly OK … [they are] allowed to be partisan”; but when do not want to listen to others, don’t agree to disagree, then blogs may lose credibility.

Nik Nazmi, the PKR SA and Political Secretary to Selangor MB, then gave the keynote speech (full text here): it was a well written overview of the role the new media played in the last elections, in particular. He has a lot of experience in the matter, having started his first website at the age of fifteen in 1995, and during the elections he used Facebook, blogs and websites to campaign. He also brought up the issue that Rocky had referred to – arguing that it was good to have an expanded blogosphere, but blogs should not be creations of political masters. He suggested that there could be a voluntary code for bloggers – whereby, for example, bloggers who agree to adhere to a common set of principles could display a logo on their site.

This ‘Code of Ethics’ came up again in the Q&A session (I asked about it :-)) and seemed to generate some interest, and for me the way in which it would deal with comments was important. One questioner brought this up in relation to user-generated content (UGC) – and asked whether anonymity should be allowed; Rocky said “anonymity is part and parcel of blogging” but Nazmi said that he had had to enforce some rules because of the trolls his blog attracted once he became a known public political figure.

Finally, I was interested to see a couple of people emphasising the non-homogenous nature of the blogosphere; as desiderata, one of the organisers of Bloggers Universe Meeting 2008 (BUM2008), said – the reason they changed it from ‘United’ to ‘Universe’ for the 2008 meeting was to reflect this diversity (I blogged about BUM2007 here and here - but not about 2008 I just noticed, tsk tsk…)

OK – I gotta get to bed. So that’s it for the moment. For the next two or three days I’ll be competing at the Bar Council Human Rights Debate 2008 - I have virtually no experience in debating, so I am pretty nervous. But it should be fun – being given a platform where the sole purpose is to tell everyone I’m write is kind of suitable for me! :-D


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ylchong on :

Dear Julian: niCe catching up at de Forum (I pitched it as the Bloggging event of 4Q2008!:-). have picked your Post for use at of course, assuming AP granted wit'out hesitation! (teh tarik endless rounds and bestA kambing at Lingam's when you come down Furong way and stop at Paul St, but don't bring the CJ!:-( Regards, YL, Desi

julian on :

Hiya, nice to see you too :-) Permission granted of course, and hope to see you again soon.

julian on :

Hi :-)

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