Thursday, May 15, 2008

Speech of Dato’ Syed Ahmad Idid at BUM2008

Thursday, 01 May 2008 16:00

Speech of Dato’ Syed Ahmad Idid at BUM (Bloggers Universe Malaysia) 2008 held at the Lake View Club, Subang Jaya on 1st May, (Labour Day) 2008. (in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day)

With compliments from Dato’ Syed Ahmad Idid (Former Judge of High Courts for Borneo & Malaya. An Invited Guest at BUM 2008.)

Dear Mr Chairperson, Fellow panellists and Bloggers of all shapes and sizes, colours and antecedents, whether you blog and turn MPs or you were VIPs now turn bloggers. I am neither.

I am asked to say that “bloggers are smart people with forward thinking views”. I agree in a majority of cases and I heartily congratulate you.

I am glad we have several professionals in the house and that none of the doctors “is a person who kills your ills and kills you by the bills”. Luckily you call this an event. If it is a conference then you can have the confusion of the speakers multiplied by the number present.

Thank you for this invitation to meet bloggers and to speak at such a significant event. I was informed that this meeting is open to those in the Government and the Opposition and is meant to be a happy hunting ground for both.

I had been afraid that I was to come in pyjamas because some time in March a company, claiming to be “Asia’s first and leading” in blog advertising, had assembled about 300 young male and female bloggers of Malaysia and Singapore for fun and games…in pyjamas! Thankfully we are not in that grouping.

Oon Yeoh of the Star has commented (on 24th April) that “socio-political activists, retrenched editors and Opposition politicians used to be the only people who did political blogging. These days Barisan National Politicians are falling over themselves trying to get into the act. A former BN Menteri Besar, a current BN Chief Minister and a current BN Federal Minister have started blogging”.

We also have Mr Lim Kit Siang and Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim and other Pakatan Rakyat leaders holding their own blogs and “speaking” to whoever wish to engage with them.

In the spirit of blogging, I shall save time by not addressing anyone like Tun, Tan Sri, Datuk and so on. In that way, I do not disappoint anyone that I may miss out. I must however do justice today by noting that I am among seasoned journalists[2] or SOBs [3]. I will just note them in my Paper here (in the session “Fostering Civil Society – Various Voices”: Ahiruddin Atan @ rockybru, Prof Dr Azmi Sharom (of University of Malaya), Dr Lim Teck Ghee (Director of Centre for Policy Initiatives) and Ms Jacqueline Ann Surin (Journalist). Then the next session (“The Fifth Estate (Bloggers) as Agency for Change”) will have YB Jeff Ooi (now MP), YB William Leong (Lawyer MP), Haris Ibrahim (Human Rights Advocate), R Nadeswaran @ Citizen-Nades plus a special (mystery YM Raja Petra Kamarudin) guest.

Without any further introduction, let us dash into the topic “Fostering Civil Society – Various Voices”[4]. From what you have placed before us, you accept that we are not yet a Civil Society. And BUM 2008 want us to inch our way or drive there or surf the net until we can improve our society which earns the description of “Civil Society”.

At this juncture, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me point out that “Civil Society” itself has two meanings at least…firstly that such society comprises of voluntary civic and social organisations as opposed to the force-backed structures of a state. Those interested can refer to Adam Ferguson and Georg Wilhem Friedrick Hegel[5] and some writings by Malaysians. Believe me when I say that “civil society actors have obtained remarkable amount of political power without anyone directly electing or appointing them”.[6] In this respect, just about any organisation outside of Government or GLC[7] can be within the Civil Society.

The second meaning is that Civil Society is the “Third Sector” as distinct from the Government and the Business.

But be warned: “A regime in which only civil society existed would be a regime of anarchy”…hence the requirement for Law & Order or Governmental regulations whereby the conduct of the population is maintained for the greatest good of the majority.

The growth of civil society has been one of the most significant trends in international development.[8].

I managed to peep into Greece…they have a Civil Society Index Diamond[9]. But after research, they found that their situation is not balanced … the four dimensions are the structure, environment, values and impact.

I think what the BUM 2008 organisers have in mind when they put “Civil Society” in the topic is one where our Society or population conducts itself in a civil manner! Hence the two definitions that I had dealt with do not apply except that you know that bloggers come within the description of “Civil Society”.

That being the case, it is now time that we seriously think, weigh and consider the blogs that we have and what these blogs can do for our country.

First the BUM 2008 Chairman Mr Y L Chong (or Desi) appeared in the daily under the title “Change mindset on blogging”. U-en Ng writing a letter to the newspaper said that “Blogs (are) merely a medium of communication” (25/4/08). The executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism, V Gayathry, cautioned that “leaders should look into the content, the messages and not the blogs”. This is where differences emerge – blogging can empower each of us to have our own website and we can express our thoughts, deliver ideas and share our experiences. Generally bloggers try to be honest in their postings but then again some can be biased or offer unfair comments (and a few can even be downright liars!) So we must start with ourselves…if we can offer the truth and convince our readers and those whom our blogs can reach, we can have a fresh start to getting them to act in the best interests of the community.

If any blogger, just because he/she sees himself or herself as being free to write anything vile or vicious or seditious takes the opportunity and brings out bad vibes, then that blogger is not a credit to our happy bloghood[10] and ought not to operate in the blogosphere[11]. Having said that, bloggers appear to be free to move about and help our community to achieve “Civil Society” status.

Bloggers should be aware of their limitations in respect of copyright, trademark, defamation[12], Official Secrets Act and Sedition. (You might want to read “Blogging – Are you exposing yourself to legal liabilities?” by Sabrina Mohamed Hasshim (2007) 2 CLJ i.)[13] and some 12 Dos and Don’ts for Blogging and Copyright Law. I have provided the organisers a copy in case some of you might want to read at leisure.

Now comes the crunch.

Since you have asked me to deal with “Fostering Civil Society…” I take it that you want suggestions as to what bloggers can or must do to achieve such a noble objective. And I think what you meant was “Civic Society”. (Civic with a “c” and not “l”.)

We must be quite relieved that the situation in Malaysia is unlike in the Philippines, some countries in South America and Africa (Zimbabwe included) and recently in Sri Lanka. You can recall that President Musharaf, upon taking office, allowed the increase in radio/TV stations and newspapers. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Hj Ahmad Badawi allowed more discussions and publications among Malaysians and did not fetter the printing of news and complaints. Result? Both in Pakistan and Malaysia, the Press (and naturally the Alternative Media or the Blogs) heavily criticised the Government leading to their current political situations.

The PM admitted that the BN lost the online war. “We did not think it was important. It was a serious misjudgement”. (at the Invest Malaysia Conference). But compare the Singapore Prime Minister’s cautious stance: “….laws would be relaxed but only carefully…” Some observers believe that the Malaysia-style digital coup is not possible in the island republic.

What I wish to stress here is that the Blogs can be used and/or misused. And I am happy that for this event, we want to know how Blogs can foster Civic Society. (And so I shall not touch the politics or politicians…may they behave themselves in and out of Parliament or the State Legislature, especially those who smoke cigars).

There are many and various problems we confront daily. As a result we are not yet a civic society. The challenge is for bloggers who are present here today and members outside to wield your power (of persuasion) and your authority (via your expertise and knowledge) to reach more Malaysians, get them to be active in their community and interact in order to identify non-civic problems and those situations which cause our country to be less civic!

First and foremost let us examine each of us. How civic-minded are we? How do we treat our neighbours? How do we conduct ourselves and driving on the roads? The accident rate is excessive for a nation of “sopan santun”. And our buses run Off the Roads into ravines? Is it because the tolls are too high and too many? Is there hanky-panky in the licensing of bad drivers? Or we paid too much for low-quality roads? This is a fertile ground for bloggers to delve into and raise the issues in the blogosphere and then get more citizens to be concerned.

Safety and security: do citizens have to be fully responsible for our own – at home, in offices, outside, while travelling? Or do the Authorities and Police have a bounden duty to perform? Here the bloggers can investigate the misconception (eg what are taxes for?), areas of responsibility and duties and bring to bear to all concerned so that a good system can set in and a proper standard of safety and security can be maintained…for the sake of our families and children (and their future).

The Poor….how can our rich country still have very (or hard core) poor in our midst? There are cries that in many areas, where money is collected, a lot of cash have slipped away or mismanaged. From my rough calculation, if every sen (or now every 5-sen) is honestly collected, we can build a luxury kampong every few months. We can provide the poor with houses complete with water and electricity and organise an industry in which they can work in. Poverty is then eradicated. Some bloggers can go into this area and figure out the “leaks” and put your corks to safeguard the cash.

Remember also the women and children.

New Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek has said that “bloggers are important” And he wished he could see bloggers[14]. He added that “everybody wants to know what’s happening in the country”. This naturally is one clear path on which bloggers walk on. Here then is testimony that bloggers can do your part in fostering civic society.

The services by local and city councils can and must be monitored. Their work impacts on how our daily lives are geared and whether we pay more for less or do we get value in the process. The activities in the respective constituencies and areas help in the development of civic consciousness which in turn fosters the civic society that this event BUM 2008 desires. So some bloggers will need to dig deep into the various aspects and write (and be read by as many) in order to gain the involvement of the residents.

I need not list here the various aspects as we can discuss these and come to come conclusion in due course. But write you must and get readers to be interested. In the billions and billions[15] of words posted by millions and millions of bloggers world-wide, one outstanding element helps spread the importance and impact and that is “the connection” or links that each blog can garner to reach the wider audience…

Cleanliness and health. In these areas of concern, bloggers can find out the respective facilities that exist and those that are lacking and bring to the attention of those given the duty to take care. Are the medicines genuine? Is there any shortage of medical staff and doctors? What can be done? Bloggers (or other citizens) ought not to just complain but should suggest solutions. Are the aged and the disabled being adequately taken care of? If not, why not? The standard of civic conscience and civic conduct is measured by the care we give to the parents and grand-parents, the infirm, and the disadvantaged.

When we reach a certain standard in this aspect, we can say we have achieved Civic Society quality.

I hope these broad areas will open your eyes to more details and minor issues of concern.

All in all, when all of us conduct ourselves well in the world arena and within our community, we can truly claim that our Civic Society is of international status and we can justly be proud. To bloggers who help in this direction, I say “Heartiest Congratulations” and “Thank you”.

By Dato’ Syed Ahmad Idid


[1] Former Judge of High Courts for Borneo & Malaya. An Invited Guest at BUM 2008.

[2] “Bloggers can be journalists and journalists can be bloggers. See Apple v Does.

[3] Successful and Outstanding Bloggers.

[4] There are differing definitions, interpretations and meanings to “Civil Society”.

[5] A German Philosopher.

[6] Wikipedia.

[7] Government Linked Corporations.

[8] The World Bank.

[9] Do you know that our Malay dictionary describes this as “bentuk ketupat”.

[10] Collection of local blogs.

[11] Collective Community of all blogs.

[12] Remember the lawyer who wrote the judgment for the Judge and put high liability?

[13] I am grateful to Encik Hamid Ibrahim (you all know him in CLJ) for bringing this to my attention.

[14] Bloggers…where are you? Why did you not invite the Menteri to this event?

[15] Do you wonder where those words (you write, you delete?) go to? One pessimist thinks these billions are being collected by an unseen (and misunderstood force) and kept in the stratosphere and will in due course cover and blanket the earth in darkness. BB Bloggers beware!

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