Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Madam, Don't Tell Me You've Been Looking For Them?"

The Committee to Protect Bloggers placed a report that a Malaysian Blogger named Jeff Ooi was questioned by police, receiving a summons, and then appearing on the front page of a national daily. More information on the incident can be obtained here, but in brief the offence constituted not his posts but a inflamed (and rather stupid) comment someone else placed on his blog. Thus his offence is allegedly not being able to control his forum, though it should be pointed that Mr Ooi did block that person from commenting again on his blog. [Addendum 4:37 - searches through Berita Harian and The Star websites have come up empty on the topic, not unusual, but one could do with a confirmation of the incident. One works with what one has.]

Now, most of the readers of this blog are already familiar with the points on both sides of this debate – on one side, those arguing for freedom of speech, and on the other, those arguing for a greater importance of stability. So, I’d like to add these points outside of the regular debate:

1. If the point of the summons was to stop a line of thought, it certainly caused the opposite effect, since the action has caused attention across national borders the way the Internet is likely to do. Otherwise only people looking for sites like that in question would find and view them – unlike print and televised media which can find their viewers through advertising.

2. It is likely that the powers-that-be are well aware that the summons not only magnifies Jeff Ooi’s points of view, but may actually increase the potential for the alleged “disharmony in society” with the increased coverage on the inflamed comment in question. The point then for the action is either to discredit the source with the summons, or simply to publicize the authority’s position on the debate, whatever else it does by more people reading these comments.

3. It is a little narrow-minded to believe that there should be absolutely no restrictions on the Internet – CNN has recently reported cases where terrorists publicize methods of kidnapping and bomb construction on the Net. But these extreme situations, and other restrictions, like the one in question here, leads towards how intelligent gatekeepers feel readers are. The more restrictions those in power create, the less intelligent and less mature they believe their countrymen, their voters, are. The point goes both ways – it may actually be true that the majority of readers just can’t handle truly free speech.

4. Proponents of freedom of speech can no longer claim the West as symbolized by the United States as a standard. It was reported that in the last presidential election, linking blogs to a specific candidate’s site would be construed as material support and lead to legal prosecution.

I end this posting with a few more philosophical points (in other words, wishy-washy section coming up) that come to mind thinking about if this Blogger ever has to go to court.. First, that most regard politicians, from George W. to Putin to our home-baked varieties to as less than the best that society has to offer. Judges on the other hand are historically supposed to be the most knowledgeable, and the wisest, of the land. So, essentially, the basis of what we called the system of justice is that we have our most learned people protecting the policies of the least?

Secondly, that the authorities might be well served to work with Mr Ooi in preventing hacking of major national websites by angry Indonesians.

Lastly, that about a century ago, someone created a dictionary that eliminated all vulgar words – including words that could be used in such a context, including the word “bed” – and the author was approached by a lady who thanked him for omitting all the “naughty words”. The author’s reply was simply, “Madam, don’t tell me you’ve been looking for them?”

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