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The Malaysian Blogosphere: chat with Mack Zulkifli and Jeff Ooi

subang protest
(photo courtesy Jeff Ooi)

Malaysian bloggers Jeff Ooi and Mack Zulkifli have been blogging up a storm lately about attempts by vested political and business interests in Subang Jaya, who want to build a “food court” in the spot where a badly-needed police station was planned. (The neighborhood where the police station was planned is apparently crime-ridden and badly policed, so local citizens are upset that some officials are more interested in making money than in protecting public order.) Jeff Ooi has railed against the people he calls “local warlords” who abuse their power. He says: “They suck to high heaven.”

Both Jeff and Mack attended a meeting on Friday night where local residents expressed their concern and outrage about the food court plans. Mack has posted video here. He believes this is the “first videoblog in Malaysia that documents a meeting with an ADUN (State Assemblyman), by residents and residential leadership in addressing a local governance issue.” Way to go, Mack!

Mack and Jeff talked to me via live IRC chat immediately after the meeting. Jeff describes it:

“I was amazed that my neighbours were brave and bold enough to speak up… i hope this can take place online, with contextual impulse… i mean in a country like malaysia….

…the massive turn up by the residents – we only had about 24 hours to mobilise people using email, blog, web and emails – i thinl the people who turned up, spoke up. Even the State Assenblyman who convened the meeting called me past midnight a while ago to give credit to the local people for their being bold. He reminds me to givethe grassroots ppl credit. I think that’s a little change for… …opening up the mindset of a cocooned people so silenced in the past 22 years.

…it’s this online/offline push-pull effect Mack and I — if I may say so — try to induce. that may help us to force open the mindset, and with the prime minister tryin to look good wiith moderate and tolerant stance, i thin wecan takeadvantage of the situation to bring in… a new paradigm … the risk is there, always there if we are seen pushing too hard”

It was a fascinating conversation. Some more highlights:

Mack described how in Malaysia the political power as well as control over the media resides almost completely with people over 50 years old. Thus the blogs speak for the younger generation. This is not unlike the situation in South Korea when online citizens’ media like Ohmynews burst onto the scene, but Mack points out the key difference is that internet penetration in Malaysia is far lower than in South Korea. Mack says:

“Bloggers in Malaysia are generally ignored by local MSM [mainstream media], which is why we, especially Jeff, and to a lesser extent me, are trying to create a grassroot independant thinking form of nanopublishing which is borderless…. We do not want just another media powerbase, we want grassroot media powerbase, where issues can be brought out for discussion in the open, for the better good of all.”

Both Jeff and Mack have been questioned by police about their blogging. Mack is philosophical about it:

“I believe they aren’t totally bad. I am trying hard to make them see that they too can use bloggers, for example, a neighbourhood watch can have a blog, and a roster of bloggers, working with the police on information gathering and reporting of minor issues, my god the utility of blogging is endless. Imagine, if matters like petty thefts and breakins, car jackings and such are blogged and people know where the crime hot-spots are, I tell you, there is a lot to ‘open source’ research and blogs are a relevant if not one of the most potent ’source’.”

Mack and Jeff have started to co-write a book about their experiences blogging in Malaysia. Can't wait to read it! Jeff says:

” I am so glad that mack came around to blog so consistently and persisitently… he enriches the malaysian scene… the emergence of the thinking malaysians who throw away the political and genetic differences – and the socio-cultural segregation that comes along. I thin this IS the real true Malaysian… but we happen to be the minor minority. Gotta start breeding such bridge bloggers within…malaysia… we have multi-divides among people… we gotta cross over that bridge. BTW, english happens to be the unifying language… might as well, we talk among malaysians as we talk to the global voices.”

Jeff says the Southeast Asian blogosphere in general is starting to flourish:

“no longer are blogosphere in indonesia monopolised by australians expats… singapre, with its stringent legal framework has nurtured a nother family bloggers who talk about a sanitised lifestyle under Lee Kuan Yew. Philippines, as usual, many MSM columnists are churning out thought-provoking blogs that question governance failures”

Read the transcript of the full IRC chat.

Mack has graciously offered to do regular roundups on the Southeast Asian blogosphere for Global Voices. Watch this space!

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  • http://timyang.com/comments.php?id=486_0_1_7_C Tim Yang

    This grassroots blogger movement will never take off in Malaysia because Jeff Ooi and others like him have been constantly and successfully alienating the media and the politicians with their vicious muck-racking. I will not disagree that he does make some good points. But he is making it difficult for politicians to engage in it and making it easier for them to write off bloggers as belligerents.

    Here are my reasons why Jeff Ooi is bad news for political blogging in Malaysia. http://timyang.com/comments.php?id=486_0_1_7_C

  • Alta Mira

    Jeff Ooi tends to distort and to create fear where it does not exist. He is rone to exaggerating situations without any substance and hangs on to rumours as fact.

    In a society comming to terms with the idea of freedom of expression inspite of the potential for all sorts of conflict, we need voices of moderation rather than desperados.

    Lee Kuan Yew for all his faults is perhaps the best observer of the this phenomenon. He recently commented with words to the effect ‘ Malaysia kini had some good ideas and articles. Nowadays it is rubbish mostly’. One cannot but agree with the man.

    Jeff Ooi was mentioned together with his alter ego Malaysia kini as being receipients of the largesse of Paul Wolfowitz and his so called foundations bent on destabilising the region.

    As for the morality and the sincereity of Jeff Ooi one can only wonder. Thus far it has all the makings of the Gospel according to Jeff Ooi with little tolerance for any dissent or contrarian opinon to his. No I am sure we’d not jump from the frying pan into the fire.

    Alta Mira

  • http://jakartass.blogspot.com Jakartass

    Since when has the Indonesian blogosphere been dominated by Australian expats? In five years, I can’t think of more than four at any one time, and they’ve been far from dominant.

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