KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Right after plans to examine internet filtering were announced, Malaysia's government is now backing off to the point of Prime Minister Najib Razak saying his administration is against censoring the internet.
"Up till now, there is no change in the government's internet policy," Razak told reporters, according to The Straits Times.
The comment runs counter to previous statements the same day from the information minister, who confirmed proposals to curb internet access to adult content in order to protect children.
On Monday, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission issued a statement that it was "proposing a study to gauge the use of the Internet in a positive and safe manner." Plus, reports last week quoted an unnamed official from the National Security Council addressing the possibility of a web filter for the country.
Internet rights groups and net citizen groups voiced discontent immediately.
The government's Datuk Seri Najib said the matter "will be decided by the Cabinet, but all this while we have never intended to filter the internet. Firstly, because it is not effective; secondly, it may cause dissatisfaction among the people because in this ... borderless age, information moves around freely."
The government denies it wishes to filter political content, as opponents charge, and claims the main concern is pornography and its accessibility to children.
"The safety of our children is not an internet game. We will find any way to ensure we are free from the culture of pornography among children," said Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim.
Politicians and organizations in favor of nationwide filtering have not commented on parental control filtering software already available for individual families.
Some 13 years ago, previous Malaysian administrations pledged to not censor the internet, when the "Multimedia Super Corridor" was launched, notes ChiefOfficers.net.
"Everybody objects to pornography. But there are millions of sites and there are mechanisms to get around the filtering," said Tony Pua, a Democratic Action Party lawmaker and blogger.
"We wonder whether pornography is just an excuse for them to start creeping on 'unsavoury' political sites. There's always a sinister agenda that we're worried about," Pua told The Strait Times.
Malaysia isn't the first government looking to censor internet content. Australia and China are among the nations with plans to install internet filters to block access to certain sites, with anti-porn as the rallying flag along with the blocking of violent sites. Opponents continue to argue that adults should be able to view whatever content they wish, and they are also concerned about political and social censorship.
Also, Maylasia has a history of censorship and restrictions in other areas, such as music, film and TV. For example, some years back, the government wouldn't allow the title of the Austin Powers film The Spy Who Shagged Me to be said in media coverage, despite the fact that the film's racy elements were all spoof and parody. If "shagged" is an issue, imagine the reaction to the names of certain porn sites.