Malaysia's prime minister said authorities will begin cracking down on bloggers who spread rumours that could destabilise the economy and cause disharmony, local media reported on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's comments on late Monday from the northern state of Terengganu were the latest from his administration on its intent to patrol cyberspace. Officials have said proper Internet governance is needed to prevent disunity in the multiethnic Southeast Asian nation.
"If blogs and SMS (short message services) are used to spread false reports which can cause disharmony and destabilise the economy, those responsible should be detained and questioned," said Abdullah, according to the official Bernama news agency. But one blogger said the move was simply an effort to govern the flow of information.
"The Malaysian leadership does this every time they are under siege: Try to control the media, and hence, what they think are the means of information to the public," said blogger Ong Hock Chuan on his Web site.
Abdullah has recently come under scathing attack from his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, over decisions that run contrary to Mahathir's policies.
Mahathir said the mainstream media, which he once controlled, is now giving him scant coverage, forcing him to seek coverage elsewhere. Independent Internet Web sites have been quick to pick up on his comments.
Malaysia maintains a tight grip on print and television media, which rarely deviate from the government line. Analysts say this has led to many people seeking news and commentary from the Internet. Abdullah said there was enough liberty online, and bloggers had been given much more freedom than print or television media. "These people are practicing the sort of freedom where they spread lies if they feel like doing so ... Where can you find that sort of freedom in the world?" the New Straits Times reported Abdullah as saying.