Monday, May 24, 2010

BUM : Bloggers Universe Malaysia - Report of Event held on 22 May

This was my first experience attending a bloggers conference. This occasion was the 4th in the series and  is also to mark World Press Freedom Day which fell on May 3. It is organised by the Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) in association with All-Blogs (the national alliance of bloggers) and a group of socio-political bloggers. More than a hundred people attended - present were bloggers, bloggers-to-be, non-bloggers, the press and the alternate media guys.

Details of this event is at my earliest post  :

THEME: Bloggers: Moving Malaysia Forward
Date: Saturday, May 22, 2010
Venue: Lake View Club, Subang Jaya
Time : 1000 to 2030


Professor Dr Lim Teck Ghee ( CPI Director ) open the event touching on key divisive issues faced by Malaysians . He highlighted religion being used by unscrupulous politicians for their own benefit, restriction on press and media freedom quoting examples from recent producers of NTV7 ( Joshua Wong ) and RTM ( Chou Z Lam ) who were being "force" to remove their programs from airing. Both of them eventually quit their positions. He said the present culture of fear and intimidation had forced the local media to present a sanitized and castrated view of the news to the public. The event today will be a day full of hotly contested opinions and points of view on key divisive issues confronting Malaysia. He believe that the presentations and dialogue can serve as the basis for clearer thinking rather than the muddled-headed pronouncements and political spinning that has been so prevalent.

Bloggers' Universe Malaysia (BUM) 2010 organising committee chairman YL Chong followup on the opening address stressing that the event was unbiased because the organizers serve in their individual capacity and do not represent any specific political interests or alignments. The organizers had tried their best to get participation from all sides - those pro Government, the opposition and NGO's/bloggers. He hope this year event will be more balanced compared with previous years and he look forward to a lively interaction between the so-called traditional media and new media. He ended his address by announcing Datuk Ahirudin Attan aka Rocky Bro as the next year BUM OC Chairman.

Speaker : Menteri Besar of Selangor, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim
Moderator: Helen Ang
Topic: “Selangor Government’s use of the Internet to improve good governance and service delivery, and the State’s efforts to bridge the Internet divide”

Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid started his address saying he join politics as he "wanted to reform" . He touched briefly on his entry into politics, his loss in the Ijok by-election and eventual victories in the 2008 General elections. He stressed the importance of a politician being transparent, aware of his people's problems/issues, be sensitive and be accountable. As such communication with the people was important. The mainstream media was limited as it was controlled by the ruling government BN. The online news media and bloggers represent another alternative media of communication. He touched briefly on several related initiatives - Internet Selangor TV, Facebook interaction with the people, gradual declassification of official documents as part of the transparency initiatives. Finally he announced he will be tabling the Freedom of Information enactment bill (  except security related issues ) at its next state assembly meeting either in August or September despite objections from certain quarters, including the Federal Government. His call for a free press was well supported  by bloggers at the forum.

3. THE ALLAH ISSUE : Various Perspectives
Moderator: Blogger Salahuddin
Speakers : Zaid Ibrahim ( lawyer ) , Haris Ibrahim ( blogger People’s Parliament) YB Khalid Samad ( MP for Shah Alam ), Akramsyah Sanusi (politico-economic blogger )

Background of this issue : The controversy started when the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Dec 31, 2009 granted local Catholic weekly newspaper The Herald permission to use the word Allah in their publication after a two-year court battle against an initial ban by the Home Ministry. The Home Ministry appeal and managed to get a stay to stop the weekly from using the word. Subsequently several churches were torched, fire-bombed and splashed with paint as a protest.

This session was perhaps the most "hot" event discussed.
Zaid Ibrahim started and went straight to the point saying this Allah was a make-up "hot" issue by politicians for their own interest. An issue which he said started with a mistake make by a government servant who had executed his power and authority without understanding the history and beliefs of the religion. The high court decision should be respected and the appeal should not be raised. He said the government should let good common sense prevail and not to push this issue further.

Haris Ibrahim ( creator of the blog 'People's Parliament' ) elaborated his view and interpretation of Islam and the word Allah. He advised that the Muslim should look inwards and strengthen their own faith instead of  accusing Christians who use the word 'Allah' . By harping on the issue that Christian use of Allah will confuse the Muslim community only give one the impression that their own faith is weak and lacking. He was unhappy with the flaming of this issue further by Utusan Malaysia . He said “Islam is about justice" and Prophet Muhammad and other prophets during the early Islamic civilisation had accepted it to be used by non-Muslims. He ended saying BN pressure of forcing Muslims not to accept openness and opinions of others is shameful.

Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad from PAS commented that Muslims were taught to recite the Quran but not to understand it. He said it was not a question of the name and that fundamentally there is nothing wrong with the use of the term by non-Muslims. He feel it was the fanning of the issue by the "Umno Goons" that get Muslims emotional . Furthermore Utusan Malaysia was also actively flaming the hatred resulting it being a problem. 

Akhramsyah Sanusi , a pro-Umno blogger disagreed arguing that the minorities should respect the needs and wants of the majority. He said since Muslim majority is unhappy with the usage of the word 'Allah', then the minority should respect it for sake of racial harmony. He emphasized that the word 'Allah' to be reserved exclusively for Muslims and no one else.

Feedback comments from the audience was in favor of the first 3 speakers.

4. COVERAGE BY MAINSTREAM MEDIA - Insights and Perspectives
Moderator: Datuk Ahirudin Attan aka Rockybru
Speakers : P.Gunasegaram ( Managing Editor, StarBiz ), Wong Choon Mei ( Consultant Editor, ), Blogger Zaki Ahmad aka BigDog.   Zaini Hassan of Utusan Malaysia did not turn up.

Gunasegaram started off lamenting the restrictions by the government on mainstream news media. He said the Printing Press and Publications Act was very rigid and together with the threat of the Official Secrets Act it was unfortunate reporters do not have a complete free say in reporting. He said the Home Ministry is very powerful and has a high degree of discretion to just cancel one's publication permit. So mainstream media can only offer limited coverage and professionalism is retarded.

Both Choon Mei and Zaki followup with agreement that liberalization in the mainstream media cannot be achieved as most mainstream news media were owned by the governing political parties. Unless there is a limit of control on ownership by political parties one will still get reported news biased towards the political owners. This was one of the reasons why smaller newspapers and alternative online news media are getting more attractive to the public.

5. Special Address: : Engaging the Urban Rakyat via Internet . Experiences from Facebook and Blog4FT
Speaker : Datuk Raja Nong Chik bin Raja Zainal Abidin ( Minister of Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing )

The FT minister started off welcoming the use of the new media as a communication tool with the people. He recounted his experience in his early days as a Minister trying to convince and encourage his staffs to use the new media ( Internet, blogs, Facebook etc ) . He said BN can change and using the Internet to reach out to the people was a good alternative as he can can get to know more and better understand his people's issues and problems. He was especially happy with the contributions he had received from his Facebook "friends" - which provide a more personal approach, closer interaction to the public , receiving input and feedbacks and keep his officers on alert. He elaborated on the success of the Blog4FT initiative as a promotion tool to keep public inform and updated. He ended saying he might want to start tweeting.

6. Bloggers’ Role in Bridging the Religious Divide
Moderator: Helen Ong
YB Teresa Kok ( MP for Seputeh), YB Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad ( MP for Kuala Selangor ), P.Uthayakumar ( Human Rights Party pro-tem secretary )

Teresa Kok started off describing her bad experience being arrested under ISA due to the wrong accusations by a blogger and subsequent Utusan Malaysia Zaini Hassan reporting that she had led a delegation to denounce the morning Muslim prayers. She expressed her gratitude to her Muslim friends and colleagues who had help her recover from this trauma by arranging her visits to mosque and Muslim communities to explain the said issue. She recall the recent Sibu by Election which was another testament that DAP and PAS could work together and participate together as seen in their church visits, campaigning and ceramahs. Being a politician now in the State government, she said she need to be extra careful when blogging or commenting especially on issues related to  religion so as  to avoid any misinterpretation and usage of it as a political tool against her, Selangor State government  and Pakatan Rakyat.

Dr Dzulkefly described and elaborated himself as a Islamist Democrat. He said the issue of religious divide arose  when one's rights are perceived to be trampled and they feel challenged. He emphasized the concept of religious plurality based on the need of not just tolerance but understanding of one and another's religion and beliefs. He believe in shared values and that PAS ia committed and always ready to work with non - Islamic parties eg DAP and the perceived notion that PAS wanted a Islamic State was incorrect. He emphasized the need of respect of the other view/beliefs and similarly he expect back a similar respect from them of his own beliefs. He concluded saying Allah is for all mankind and the recent issue of Allah being use by Christians is just a political ploy .

Uthayakumar was in "killing mode" when he attacked  and blamed the government, the media, MIC and everyone else for the plight of the Indian community in Malaysia. He quoted several examples of temple demolition, Indians being shot by police and eviction of Indians that was not widely reported. He compared these cases with the recent Amin's shooting case, Teoh Beng Hock murder case and firebombing of churches which got much greater nationwide wide coverage and support from bloggers and the alternative media. He chided bloggers for not writing more on Indian rights, dismissing them as no different from BN-owned mainstream media. He concluded and emphasized many times that Indians were always treated as a minority and being side-lined. His tone was indeed racialist and it was not a surprise he was subsequently bombarded by several notable bloggers as being racist and communalistic. Calm eventually prevailed after all the "mud-slinging" and the conference ended.

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