Gobind committed to free speech: New law for online portals

Gobind committed to free speech: New law for online portals

PUTRAJAYA: Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo’s announcement yesterday that a new law is being mulled which would hold online portals accountable for inflammatory remarks by their readers triggered an uproar among free-speech advocates.

In response to the flak, the minister clarified his comments today, saying that it is necessary for online portals to self-regulate by monitoring readers’ comments on their sites to filter out hate speech which could impact the nation’s stability.

He stressed that online news portals are a benefit to society, but that there is a need to ensure decorum among netizens commenting on various issues.

“(The government is not planning to) curtail civil liberties, but rather (we want to remind Malaysians to) maintain decorum and avoid… inflammatory remarks (which have been increasing of late), which may impact the security of our nation.

“Freedom of expression does not mean (freedom) to promote lewd, vulgar or sexist comments.

“Neither should we condone threats of bodily harm on social media,” Gobind said in a statement today.

He said such comments and posts should have no place on public forums – and this could be ensured through self-regulation by the portals themselves.

“I am of the view that asking portals to moderate the content of their comment sections is not unreasonable.

“In essence, (doing so) reinforces the fact that we uphold the right to free speech, but (underscore that there is) responsibility attached to it.

Gobind said the matter is still being discussed, and that he intends to meet with all stakeholders, including representatives from the media, on ways to develop a framework and mechanism to minimise the spread of inflammatory comments online.

The minister added that he will also seek the views and recommendations of the soon-to-be-formed media council on the issue; and ways to better promote responsible use of social media, while providing the space for freedom of expression in the country.

The minister said the law on monitoring news portal comments was mooted after he received many complaints from netizens shocked by insensitive posts published on websites.

“In the meantime, I reiterate the call for all of us to be cautious in what we post on social media.

“Whilst we respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press, we must remember that this freedom is not absolute, but subject to laws necessary to preserve public order in our country,” Gobind added.

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