It is time for a bloggers’ code of ethics to help preserve peace and prevent incitement of hate or racism, said Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.
While stressing that it was merely a guideline and not a legislation, Syed Hamid said such a code would make people accountable for what they write in cyberspace similar to traditional media.
“Blogging and reporting on the Net is no longer a past time done after midnight by people in pyjamas or kain sarung.
“Blogging is touching the lives of more and more Malaysians. With such a powerful tool, bloggers are able to influence their readers and shape their perspectives.
“They can unite communities and they can divide them. The dangers of distortions and inaccuracies in blogging are very real and it is capable of destroying lives.
“Thanks in part to the blogosphere, dangerous assumptions often travel faster than truths,” he said Saturday in his speech at the Blogger’s Buff 2008 conference.
Bloggers, he said, must ensure their write-ups are balanced, accurate and information verified and not based on hearsay.
He said greater caution was needed especially when one could easily stumble on postings and comments that touched on very sensitive matters and had the potential to cause tension between people of different races and faiths.
“The comment and talkback sections had unfortunately provided a channel for people to espouse hatred and racial sentiments, using it as a conduit for constantly validating their negative opinion.
“There is no excuse for this, which is something all parties need to seriously look into.
“Racism is more in your face because of this which is not a positive development for our multi-racial and multi-religious country,” he said.
Syed Hamid said the informality of a blogging culture was deceptive as most blogs were public, permanent and searchable.
“It is coming to a time where a libelous comment on a blog may be actionable in the same way as it would be if published in the traditional media,” he said, adding that one had a right to non-censorship on the Internet as long as they did not break the laws.
Another constraint on the blogosphere’s influence, he said was partisan bloggers and those who self-segregate in their political views. The proposed Data Protection Act, he added, would help prevent any invasion of privacy.
Syed Hamid noted that blogs were on the verge of maturity and had come a long way from its initial poison pen perception which came about as one did not need qualifications to start a blog.
“Blogging is indeed coming of age. These are exciting times and even the king of bloggers (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad is enjoying it,” he said, adding that there was a growing “counter revolution” in cyberspace since March given the emergence of bloggers from the Barisan Nasional coalition.
Speaking on the Internal Security Act during the dialogue session, Syed Hamid said the Home Ministry was appealing the court’s decision to release Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamarudin because certain points of law were undecided and not because he was released from detention.
He said the ISA was not meant as a punishment but rather for members of society to be responsible and ensure peace and public order was maintained.