Thursday, September 18, 2008

An article about Malaysian Political Blogosphere

I just want to copy this article from MalaysiaKini.Com here before it disappears into the archive, it has lots of introduction on Malaysia Political Blogs & websites, a good source of reference for Cyber Activists in Singapore.

The BN doesn't 'get' the Internet
Sep 19, 08 11:16am opinion

The directive goes out from MCMC to TMNet and other ISPs operating in Malaysia - they are to block access to RPK's news site, Malaysia Today.

Very quickly, RPK gets wind that his readers in Malaysia cannot gain access to his news site. In response, he sets up mirror sites and gets word out through Malaysiakini, the blogosphere and the major Malaysian mailing list nodes.

raja petra kamaruddin and malaysia today 250707Sure enough, most of his regular readers get wind of this and are able to access his site again. The blogophere erupts against the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission and the Barisan Nasional government. Malaysia Today is once again accessible and worst still, for the BN, its actions have raised the ire of the blogosphere.

This recent episode captures the essence of the BN's attitude towards the Internet - they just don't 'get' it.

It would be an understatement to say that the BN leadership, as a whole, has little inkling as to how public opinion is shaped and how political news is disseminated in cyberspace. Its attitude towards bloggers, blogging and the blogsophere, for one, has been reactionary, erratic and inconsistent.

Embracing the blogosphere

Immediately after the March general election, there was a rush within the BN towards trying to understand the role of bloggers and the blogosphere in influencing the election results. There was even talk of making it compulsory for current and aspiring BN representatives to have their own blogs.

The then newly-minted Information Minister Ahmed Shabery Cheek publicly stated that the government would engage with bloggers and even took the step of inviting bloggers to share their views on an RTM programme. One of the first bloggers invited onto this programme was none other than Raja Petra Kamarudin, or RPK. The schizophrenic nature of the BN government was demonstrated when RPK's news site was recently blocked.

Six months after the March elections, how much have the BN representatives responded to the call to set up their own blog sites? Not much, apparently.

mahathir  chedet blog website event 180908 03Of the 85 BN MPs in Peninsular Malaysia, only 13 of them currently have their own blogs (15%). In contrast, 59 out of the 79 opposition MPs (Ibrahim Ali, who is an independent, is excluded as are East Malaysian MPs because blogs are not so important there), or almost three quarters have their own blogs.

Of course, having a blog does not mean that these blogs have a wide reach or even that they are regularly updated. Some of these blogs were set up just prior to the March general election and have not much updated since.

One notable example is the blog of the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng ( But a majority of the blogs run by opposition MPs have fresh content and have been set up to disseminate news concerning and views of these opposition MPs.

Is it important for BN MPs, many of whom are ministers or deputy ministers, to have their own blogs? Can they not depend on the websites of their ministries and online media coverage to disseminate news about their activities and their views?

Arguably, many BN MPs are stuck in this mould of thinking, reliant on the mainstream press to cover their every move and thinking that this is sufficient. What many of them do not realise is the cyberspace is a totally different media 'universe' as it were and that having coverage in the mainstream press does not guarantee that this will be replicated online.

Why the anti-BN bias online?

Anyone who regularly surfs the Net for political news would attest to the fact that anti-BN news and views dominate cyberspace. This is partly the BN's creation since its stifling of the mainstream media has forced the public to rely on alternative online news sites and blogs. BN's online absence means that it does not have an effective and credible means of 'neutralising' the online news bias against it.

In cyberspace, if a politician does not have an identity or branding, someone else will do the branding for him or her. In this case, that 'someone' usually goes by the name 'Google'.

teresa kok sassy mp blog 160908A simple exercise illustrates this. If one did not know much about Jamaluddin Jarjis, the former minister of science, technology and innovation and current MP of Rompin, a 'Google' search will reveal him as the minister who made racist remarks against an Indian student while in the US and the minister who was accused of groping a promoter at a nightclub in KL.

In the past, the BN could rely on a pliant media not to report any offensive remarks that may have been made 'accidentally' by a BN politician. Now, it is likely that such remarks would likely be picked up by an online newspaper such as Malaysiakini or an observant blogger. Once such news gets onto cyberspace, the fallout is almost instantaneous.

Bloggers will follow up with negative posts criticising the politician in question which will then lead on to more posts and more negative reactions. The effect is multiplicative which explains why most Google searches associated with BN politicians almost lead to negative blog posts.

Google's algorithms automatically take note of the sites which registers the most links in relation to certain politicians in question and these links are usually related to something foolish that a politician has said or done rather than something associated with his or her ministerial responsibilities.

What money can't buy

The BN is not used to playing the role of the underdog in the political sphere. But it is clearly outmanned and outgunned in cyberspace. The number of blogs which can be categorised as anti-BN or anti-establishment significantly outnumber the blogs which are supportive of the BN.

jeff ooi weblog screenshotThis is especially evident among the Malaysian Alpha-bloggers including RPK, Rocky's Bru and Jeff Ooi (left). An examination of the blogroll of most of the social-political bloggers finds the usual suspects, most of whom are anti-establishment. In fact, it is hard to name a respected blogger who can be categorised as pro-BN.

The BN cannot overcome this disadvantage in cyberspace by throwing money at the problem. The BN cannot bribe or buy its way into cyberspace.

One of the main reasons why the number of anti-BN bloggers vastly outnumber pro-BN bloggers is that blogging is an activity which requires a lot of personal commitment and passion. The bloggers who gain recognition have done so because of their willingness to share their honest views on the issues of the day on a regular basis.

Pro-BN supporters, perhaps more concerned with contracts and political positions, are not similarly motivated. But even if the BN could pay a whole army of bloggers to set up pro-BN blogs, they would be facing an uphill task to convince the already skeptical reading public of their credibility.

bloggers universe malaysia 010508 ahirudin attanThis is not to say that none of the BN's policies can be defended or that the opposition is free from criticism. But for a pro-BN blogger or even a BN MP to gain the same kind of cyberspace respect as Jeff Ooi or Rocky (right), he or she has to be free to criticise the BN as well as the opposition in equal measure.

The mentality of the BN follows the 'either you're for us or against us' philosophy. The party that does not allow its backbenchers to defy the whip would surely not allow one of its own to use his or her blog to criticise the BN in equal measure as the opposition.

Herein lies of one the realities of cyberspace which the BN has not yet grasped. The inherent anti-establishment bias in cyberspace means that a blogger can gain an audience and credibility by just attacking the BN.

After all, this was what Jeff Ooi was doing before he became an MP. But a pro-BN or BN MP cannot hope to gain the same level of respect or the same reach if he or she were to just repeat the party line in cyberspace.

Kit Siang, the Internet trailblazer

That cyberspace has an anti-BN bias is partly the BN's own making. The strict controls on mainstream media drove the public to alternative news sources online and for the more motivated, to create blogs as channels to vent their anti-BN views.

The same strict controls are also responsible for driving opposition MPs to the blogosphere and cyberspace. Perhaps no opposition politician has embraced cyberspace more than Lim Kit Siang. He wrote about IT issues as early as the mid 1990s.

He was one of the few politicians who uploaded his press releases on his own personal website. He was one of the key drivers in continuously upgrading DAP's website, publishing the press statements of its MPs and Aduns on its website and also encouraging its representatives to start blogs of their own.

One could say that Kit Siang was made for the Internet age despite his age. He is probably one of the few senior politicians who still does his own online research and is probably a voracious consumer of online news.

Kit Siang's blog ( is probably one of the most visited social political blogs in Malaysia as evidenced by the numerous comments he gets after every posting.

Anwar Ibrahim's website ( is much slicker and reminds me of a website of an aspiring US presidential candidate. It is more comprehensive than Kit Siang's blog in that it has sections where one can make financial contributions, request Anwar to speak at events and view his past speeches and op-eds.

He also has a blog ( which has his public schedule, YouTube videos, news items featuring Anwar as well as his press releases.

chedet mahathir blog 210508Even Dr Mahathir Mohamad ( joined the blogosphere when he found that the free access he had to the mainstream media when he was the PM was not so accessible after he left office. His blog has since reached the six-million-hits mark and he continues to lob verbal grenades against Pak Lah's administration.

In contrast, no BN senior leader can claim to have the same kind of Internet presence or traffic. It remains to be seen if Najib's recently launched website, (, will get the same kind of attention which Dr M's blog receives. Without fresh and honest content, it might prove to be a short-lived phenomenon.

But some BN politicians do 'get it'

It would not be fair to place all BN politicians in the same broad basket. Some of them have quickly jumped onto the blog bandwagon perhaps none more so than Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, the former Selangor menteri besar.

He was one of the first BN leaders to start his own blog after the disastrous election results in his own state ( He finds himself in the unfamiliar territory of being the leader of the opposition. His blog has quickly found traction among those Umno supporters who are unhappy with Pak Lah's administration.

khairy jamaluddin websitePerhaps the most hated person in the Malaysian blogosphere, Khairy Jamaluddin, also has his own website ( which was started just before the March general elections. It will take more than his own website to counter all the negative posts on him in the blogosphere but a recent blog entry criticising MCMC's decision to block access to RPK's website garnered quite a bit of publicity both online and offline.

But both of them were superseded by Shahrir Samad. Long known as one of the more outspoken leaders within Umno, Shahrir started blogging when he was in political 'exile'. His then office in Sri Hartamas was emblazoned with the sign 'Shahrir-Umno' and his 'experience' on the Internet probably explains why he currently runs four websites, two of which are regularly updated (,,,,

ali rustam blog 365 comment missing page 150408Not all of Umno's forays into the blogosphere have been successful. Ali Rustam is probably Umno's only blogging menteri besar ( but he quickly found that cyberspace can be a very unforgiving place when a post criticising the Selangor Pakatan government for allowing a pig farm project approved by the outgoing BN government to go on was quickly inundated with negative comments. He has since disabled comments from his blog, one of the surefire ways to decrease readership.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah's foray into the blogosphere has also been uncertain. It is not clear that the one blog dedicated to Ku Li's activities ( is actually run by him. It comprises mostly of other blog posts about Ku Li and some news items covering his activities.

While it has received over 600,000 hits, there are very few comments following each post. Ku Li would generate much more traffic and attention to himself if he took a page out of Dr Mahathir's playbook by posting some entries actually written by himself instead of relying purely on secondary sources.

Be my Facebook friend

If external political competition does not galvanise BN politicians to have a web presence, perhaps internal political competition might. It is instructive to note that almost all the main contenders for the top positions in the upcoming MCA party elections have their own websites or blogs.

ong tee keat service centre 090808 blogOng Tee Keat (left), the front-runner for the position of the president of MCA, has the most comprehensive website ( featuring news items, his manifesto and regular blog post in both Chinese and English.

The other possible contenders for the positions of president and deputy president also have their own websites including Ng Yen Yen (, Liow Tiong Lai ( and Fong Chan Onn ( Indeed, Fong's comments about the injustice of the recent ISA arrests were picked up from his own blog.

It is unlikely that the BN politicians will be able to overcome the lead of many of the opposition politicians, at least in terms of eyeballs. A majority of BN MPs still do not have an online presence despite the low barriers to entry. After all, it doesn't take much effort to start a blog. The opposition MPs, because of their relative youth and because of their younger staff, are much more attuned to the newest developments in cyberspace.

Take social networking for example. Only three BN MPs in Peninsular Malaysia have Facebook accounts (Mukhriz Mahathir, Shabery Cheek and Khairy Jamaluddin) compared to 21 opposition MPs.

Three opposition MPs, Anwar Ibrahim, Nurul Izzah and Lim Kit Siang, top the list of MPs with the greatest number of Facebook friends - 5,000 and counting. In contrast, someone set up a fake Facebook account for Pak Lah and he currently has seven Facebook friends.

The online advantage on the part of the opposition does not guarantee them electoral success. There is no replacing the 'offline' activities that are part and parcel of what political parties and politicians need to do - the constituency servicing, the face-to-face meetings, the ceramahs, and so on. But the Internet has become such a key component of the political battleground that any party that ignores its importance is likely to find itself handicapped.

The BN establishment will not 'get' the Internet anytime soon. But it might have to learn fast if it finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being in the opposition at the federal level and denied automatic coverage in the mainstream media. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

ONG KIAN MING is a PhD candidate in political science at Duke University.

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