The 2008 General Elections in Malaysia is a historically eminent event, for not only has the ruling Barisan Nasional (or National Frontier) lost its two-thirds majority in the Parliament, it also reflects the revolutionary use of the online platform. Being termed as the ‘silent revolution’, the Malaysian oppositional parties and youths adopted a campaigning strategy that uses the latest Internet based technologies. Only one will be scrutinized in this thesis, the Malaysian blogosphere and specifically, the socio-political blogs.
Using Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony framework, this thesis will attempt to
examine how the Malaysian blogosphere is able to provide a space in shaping counter
hegemony and to what extent it is capable of subverting the ruling regime’s hegemony. It will also analyze the potentials and barriers in the creation of new forms of intellectuals or leaders from the subordinate classes in leading this counter hegemonic power. This thesis will suggest that due to the fragmentary nature of the blogging content, counter hegemony is unable to hold fort as a strong and distinctive entity in convincing citizens to subscribe to. Hence, State hegemony will reign supreme.
The commonly held notion that blogging advances democracy will be re-examined
through the use of Axel Brun’s produsage model. This thesis questions whether socio-
political blogs are able to bring about actual societal transformations in Malaysia. It will also propose that, the idea of produsaging democracy oversimplifies and ignores the imperfections of reality. The prevalence of digital divide, citizens’ apathetic attitude towards socio-political matters and the State’s stringent stance on bloggers, greatly affects the “freedom” within the Malaysian blogosphere.
Chapter 1: Introduction
In this election, young Malays joined hands with other young Malaysians in making the argument for the Malaysia of the future. They followed the footsteps of their forefathers who fought for their country’s independence over half a century ago. By doing so, youths are sowing the seeds of success for their children, when Malaysia celebrates its centenary. By then, Malaysia will truly have come of age.
Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, 2008, Malaysia’s State Assemblyman, in his article, The
Coming of Age of Malaysia’s Youth, Opinion Asia
Blogs have emerged from modest beginnings and become a highly networked
mass of online knowledge and communication for the common people. It is ‘arguably
the most popular online personal publishing platform on the Internet’ (Brady, 2005,
p.4). All types of research could be done through blogs as the medium provides for
linking from site to site, leading to possible collaborations and knowledge sharing in a
fast, convenient and public manner. Moreover, blogs act as novel tools that allow
bloggers to mobilize their audience (ibid.) without the need for any formalized
leadership or control. On the other hand, blogging content have become so disembodied and stricken with provocative fabrications as well as political exposé, the power of the authority or government becomes largely undermined.
In Malaysia, politicians from the ruling party are upset with bloggers criticizing
local policies, accusing bloggers as liars and troublemakers. There are talks of forcing bloggers to register with the government (Masnick, 2007), in the attempt to discipline these errant netizens. This may lead to the institutionalization of the blogosphere that contradicts the e-democratic calls of ‘cyberspace is the space where individuals are, inherently, free from control by real space sovereigns’ (Lessig, 1998, p.3). Leveraging upon blogs’ qualities such as allowing for anonymity and ease of usage, blogs enable the voices of the repressed to be heard. Blogs provide for an alternative source of news in a country where her mainstream media is highly controlled by the state (Banerjee,
As aptly put by Nik Ahmad (2008), a prolific blogger and political commentator
in Malaysia, he maintains that new technologies have undermined Malaysia’s old
politics of divide and rule. The ruling party had depended on racially stratified
mainstream media in crafting different messages to the different racial groups,
‘allowing them to stoke the fires of communal discontent on the ground’ (ibid.). This strategy galvanizes citizens’ dependency for the government and hence, the legitimacy for its ruling. With blogs, citizens are able to search for other avenues in gaining different perspectives for a certain incident or issue that may have been concealed by the mainstream media. This is further heightened during the campaigning period for the Malaysian 2008 General Elections, where the oppositional parties and Malaysian youths actively blogged on contentious and anti-government content (Tan and Zawawi, 2008). What Nik Ahmad (2008) termed as ‘silent revolution’, has resulted in a historical defeat by the ruling Barisan Nasional1 coalition, from maintaining its two-thirds majority in Parliament and being unable to have complete control in amending the country’s Constitution.
Through this thesis, I will review how an average Malaysian citizen, with
neither political clout nor influence, gains autonomy through the Malaysian
blogosphere. In addition, I will look into the challenges he or she faces in attempting to practice democratic ideologies of freedom of speech and expression, in countering the State’s authoritarian ruling. Through their persistent and relentless questionings, these online political commentators have destabilized the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) consociationalist2 government’s hegemonic use of “cultural governance”.
The Government’s biased actions are justified by the notions of Malay special rights and supremacy or better known as, the Bumiputra policy, which undervalues all other non-Malay and non-indigenous racial groups (Kesavapany and Saw, 2006, p.24). However, to what extent such opposition has been able to effectively recast what constitutes the national interest is still dubious.
I question whether the new media platform is able to compel Malaysians to face
up to their longstanding problems of corruption, cronyism and nepotism, as stated by
Kanchana (2009), that had ‘became so deep rooted into society that it became part of
the Malaysian culture’. It has been argued that the usage of the online medium may
become a viable catalyst in the formation of a new ideology for the state where the
focus for a citizen’s well-being will be based on national interest, rather than the interest of certain racial groups. Nonetheless, I will argue that it can end up as an online extension for the reproduction of pre-existing offline ideologies and conditions heavily influenced by racial sentiments.
1.1 Research Questions
Freedom and democracy become the inevitable consequence of digital
technology, with the state having no authority over the online communities. ‘Digital
democracy will be decentralized, unevenly dispersed, even profoundly contradictory’
(Jenkins, 2006, p.208) leading to the rise of autonomous media centers. This propagates the belief that digital technology has the independent power to shape and transform society. In most cases, ‘forms of control and regulation are already embedded in the operational codes that govern our interactions in cyberspace… unless we understand this anti democratic potentil of cyberspace; we are likely to sleep through the transition from freedom into control’ (Lessig, 2000).
Therefore, expecting the decline of powerful governmental institutions when confronted with cyber democracy becomes rather premature. The political effects depend on decisions made in both the technology and the regime, which shapes the new medium and the institutions around it.
This thesis is an extension of Brown’s study (2004) on politics of the Internet in
Malaysia that uses the Gramscian cultural hegemony framework. I propose an
investigation into the extent blogs can become a space for ideological negotiations by
the civil societies, beyond the State’s hegemonic control and itself as a negotiable
ideology seeking to subvert State’s hegemony. With blogging as a space for counter
hegemony, I will analyze whether there will be creations of new forms of intellectuals or leaders from the subordinate classes. At the same time, I will scrutinize the possible obstacles that prevent an average blogger who holds no political power, from developing into these new forms of intellectuals.
Furthermore, I am skeptical about the hype that the freedom of expression in the
Malaysian blogosphere equates to further democratization for her citizens. The
prevalence of digital divide as well as the highly state controlled news content from both online and offline mainstream sources (Kenyon, 2007; Reporters Without Borders, 2006) provide an ominous background for the advancement towards democracy. In the Produsage model put forth by Axel Bruns (2008), he claims that produsaging
democracy is not really aimed at toppling the ruling regime. Instead, the focus is on how blogs are able to reinvent the ways in which citizens deliberate and engage on social and political matters. I will examine whether the produsers of these socio-
political blogs are able to bring about actual societal and revolutionary changes in the overall Malaysian society, or whether it is just an illusion of empowerment.
In summary, my thesis focuses on two theoretical concepts, namely, Gramsci’s
counter hegemony and the formation of the new intellectuals from the subordinate
classes and followed by Axel Brun’s model of produsaging democracy. My research
(1) With blogging as a space for counter hegemony, can the politically powerless
citizens be turned into a new form of intellectuals in seeking to subvert the State’s
(2) Will these ordinary citizens acting as produsers, bring about actual social
transformations within the overall Malaysian society, or will there simply be a
reiteration of pre-existing ideologies (such as the State’s racially stratified propaganda), in the online space?
2.0 Setting the Stage for the Malaysian Blogosphere
In this chapter I will give an overview of how the offline mainstream media
landscape in Malaysia is like, as affected by the State’s political stance and policies. Preceding that, I will investigate the value of blogging as an alternative space for an average citizen in Malaysia. At the same time, I will look into the country’s concerns for the prevailing split between its rural and urban areas that contributes to digital divide and how this impacts on Malaysia’s e-democracy.
2.1 Destabilizing the State Ideology
Malaysia follows a model of consociational democracy where the usual practice
is ‘of accommodating the competing interests of the various component parties in
Barisan Nasional (BN) while maintaining Malay dominance,’ (Kesavapany and Saw,
2006, p.24) with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) having a sovereign
rule over it. Malaysia has a history of electoral democracy since her independence in 1957 but it is considered as a pseudo-democracy with a discourse ‘based on ethnic lines and the very idea of “race” become naturalized in official life’ (Farish Noor, 2002 in Tan and Zawawi, 2008, p.11). The mainstream media’s role is in propagating State policies via the use of agenda-setting, where the State has put into place, ‘a set of laws to contain opposing voices, discouraging public discourse’ (Tan and Zawawi, 2008, p.10).
Not surprisingly, the superseding objective is for the ‘creation of national unity
through the eradication of racial equality in the social and economic advancement of the people’ (Kesavapany and Saw, 2006, p.24-25). In this, the governing power still holds on to the neo-colonial beliefs of Malay supremacy and Malay special rights that are prioritized over the needs of other races. Ethnicity has thus become a doctrine in the formulation of every aspect of government programmes and policies, namely, the New Economic Policy (NEP) up to 1991 and thereafter, the National Development Plan (NDP)3. These ethnic-based policies result in much discontentment amongst minority groups such as the Chinese and Indian Malaysians. They consider the doctrine as racist and causing ethnic segregation amongst Malaysians. Furthermore, with BN having a monopoly over the mass media, it is not surprising that these dissenting voices of the minorities eventually used the online platform for discussions of topics not published in the mainstream media and for airing out their grievances against the State (Banerjee, 2008).
In September 1998, amid conflicts over the dealing of the 1997 Asian Economic
Crisis, ‘Mahathir (the then prime minister of Malaysia) sacked his deputy and erstwhile protégé, Anwar Ibrahim, and expelled him from the government and UMNO’ (Brown in Abbot, 2004, p.79). The ex-Deputy Prime Minister was held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) where he was charged with allegations of corruption and sodomy. This led to a public outcry that became known as the Reformasi movement and the formation of National Justice Party (also known as Parti Keadilan Nasional).
Due to the ISA hovering and watching dissidents closely, along with the stringent rules imposed upon the mainstream media, these oppositions used the Internet and mobile communications in garnering support and organizing rallies and demonstrations. Consequently, the Internet in Malaysia became known ‘as a political medium in Malaysia and as the medium of reformasi is virtually synonymous’ (Brown in Abbot, 2004, p.82). Hence, the concept of Internet as a political space for counter hegemonic discourses becomes widely established.2.2 Invigoration of Malaysians’ Online Culture
The Malaysian media began as a State controlled media environment where the
print media worked under an annual licensing scheme and broadcast media. However,
since early 1980s, Malaysia’s media landscape had seen a process of deregulation and
liberalization (Banerjee, 2008, p.1). Despite that, ‘the Malaysian media continue to see some form of control over the mainstream media’ (ibid). Malaysians have also actively embraced new media technology as seen through its ‘Multimedia Super Corridor5 initiative that enabled rapid expansion of the Internet and mobile telecommunications’ (ibid.). This includes the Bill of Guarantees, with the ruling government’s ‘promise not to censor the Internet’ (Brown in Abbot, 2004, p.79). According to Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, ‘the Internet news media cannot be called an “alternative media’ any more as it is a more popular medium than the traditional mainstream media in Malaysia’ (Banerjee, 2008, p.2). Today, the mainstream media as part of their selling strategy are
trying to imitate and catch up with the increasingly popular alternative online media by being as critical and shrewd as the latter.
Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) was conceptualized in 1996 as an initiative by the Malaysian government designed to leapfrog Malaysia into the information age. The focus is on aiding both foreign-owned and home-grown
Malaysian companies that have businesses in multimedia and communications products, as well as in any related research and development areas.
Unlike the mainstream media that tend to package and distribute its content to
citizens, the online media is more of a pull technology where users could proactively search and request for information that is flexibly customized and aggregated. With such tools, citizens are able to search online for information that is not published in the mainstream media. For instance, in the previous 12th Malaysian General Election, ‘user perception of coverage by the mainstream mass media on the elections was that of bias and propaganda, the Internet emerged as a more trustworthy medium and led to people switching to the Internet as their main source of information’ (Banerjee, 2008, p.4).
In a study conducted by Universiti Utara Malaysia (COLGIS, 2008), their
findings showed that, towards the end of the election campaign, Malaysians’ support for Barisan Nasional (BN) become much less than from the start whereas their support for Pakatan Rakyat (PR) increased. In addition, ‘it has later been admitted by several Government sources including Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi6 that the
Government had underestimated the power and influence of the Internet’ (ibid.). The
Opposition parties aggressively used the alternative online media and made
unprecedented election gains, by presiding over 5 states, thus disallowing UMNO from
gaining the two thirds majority for the first time ever. These indicate the growing
resentment and distrust of the citizens towards the ruling coalition party.
*(During the course of writing this thesis certain political restructuring took place in Malaysia. Under much pressure from the public and his UMNO party, PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi resigned from his post on 1st April 2009 and was taken over by his deputy, Najib Tun Razak. However, any references made to the Prime Minister or leader of Malaysia in this thesis, will be given to PM Badawi)
The blogosphere is widely believed to be a platform for direct and deliberative
democracy that is designed to grant public participation, where all citizens are given a voice in decision making. The ‘underlying social networks behind blogs to suggest unconscious development towards democracy’ where its ‘interactions are not influenced by any form of command and control’ (Tan and Zawawi, 2008, p.5). All conventions will have to be reinvented, although the process would not be easy, in creating a world with no center, gatekeeper nor margins. These technologies will have a hand in deciding the new political conditions in Malaysia, having ‘a direct effect on the well-being of the country in the immediate and distant future’ (Ooi, 2008). Malaysian blogosphere is like ‘the emergence of the underground newspaper, grassroots video production, people’s radio stations and other forms of independent media production and distribution’ (Enzensberger, 1974). This new generation of digital communications is making cultural resources available to all, using a relatively low cost and easy to use media with an open network and the peer-to-peer technique, hence providing the birth of a new political culture.
The rapid proliferation of blogging bears testimony to the fact that the
Malaysian citizens are harnessing the new media to present their own views, opinions
and content. The existence of such socio-political blogs heavily relies on participation and readership by the average citizens rather than the highly powerful elites. This ‘latent technical power must be used intelligently and deliberately by an informed population’ despite knowing that ‘big power and big money will find a way to control access to virtual communities’ (Rheingold, 2000). Malaysian netizens need to educate themselves in order to leverage the emerging forms of political and economic power online. Therefore, in bringing about a social transformation within Malaysia, it is necessary to establish public commons in the form of blogging and the creation and distribution of its alternative content.
2.3 Digital Divide in Malaysia
Socio-political blogs could be seen as an alternative media which provides
multiple and different points of views, as opposed to the singularly expressed ones
through the mainstream media. Alternative media caters to communities not well served by the mass media, or that specifically advocates for social change. Also termed as “citizens’ media”, one would expect it to be produced for non-profit reasons and not controlled by government linked media conglomerates. However, in reality, Malaysia’s ranking on their annual press freedom index to online censorship is worsening, from 124th in year 2007 to 132nd in year 2008, out of 169 countries ranked (Reporters Without Borders, 2007 & 2008). Ironically with increasing understanding by the State that the Internet can play a key role in democracy, more and more new methods of censoring it are being introduced. The Malaysian government is seen as backtracking on their promise not to censor the Internet, with their prevalent use of the ISA to detain errant bloggers without trial (Amnesty International, 2008).
As compared to other Asian countries, Malaysian blog readers have a higher
interest in political blogs (PR Newswire, 2006). Nevertheless, ‘there exists a digital divide between its large rural population and its congregated urban population’ (Crump and Zaitun, 2005, p.2) that is still growing as technology is speedily evolving. According to the Information Society Index (ISI) Ranking (2009) for digital divide, Malaysia stands at a calculated average of 36 against the 53 countries in Asia Pacific. Furthermore, in an earlier study conducted, it was found that the percentage for students’ usage of the Internet in the rural area is 64.7% as compared to the 84.6% in the urban area (Norizan, 2002, p.7). Although financial help is given to conduct activities in overcoming this, it seemed that there is ‘no standard approach and no coordination’ (Crump and Zaitun, 2005, p.2) between the different campaigners resulting in overlaps, repetitions and a waste of resources.
The alternative online media through socio-political blogs may seem freer than
the mainstream media. However, as long as information technology is ‘not being
realized equally in the society, with the poor, rural and minority groups falling behind,’ (Norizan, 2002, p.1) e-democracy becomes an empowering power, only for those who are already empowered in the first place.
3.0 Theoretical Framework
I am using Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony that gives great attention to
ideology and culture as the agents for State dominance as well as revolution. In Chapter 2, I have explained how Malaysia’s consociationalist government had over the years, used cultural hegemony through its neo-colonial beliefs of Malay supremacy and the rights of Bumiputra, in legitimizing its racial based policies. Nevertheless, through the Internet, there has been a surge of counter hegemonic power for civil societies led by the average citizens (turned bloggers) who have restricted or no political clout. Therefore, in Chapter 5, I will analyze whether these average Malaysian bloggers could potentially become a new form of intellectuals from the subordinate classes as proposed by Gramsci, in leading this counter hegemonic power.
I will also be looking into the concept of ‘produsaging democracy’ as put forth
by Axel Bruns. Alongside, I will be analyzing claims about e-democracy based on
studies conducted in Europe, America and Asia. Later in Chapter 6, I will investigate whether produsers in the Malaysian blogging space can bring about actual societal changes that extend beynd the blogosphere and into the offline community. However, I will argue that it may simply become another platform for disseminating the already existing offline ideologies.
3.1 Cultural Hegemony and its Struggles in Reality
Under a radical milieu of Fascist Italy, the Prison Notebooks was Antonio
Gramsci’s attempt to formulate an alternative plan of political action for the working class against the ruling regime. The period of his incarceration served to illuminate Gramsci’s ideas on hegemony, consent and the role of civil society. Works on hegemony was brought up by Marx and Lenin but it was Gramsci who established the
salience of hegemony in determining social relations within a capitalist system. He
deviated from the traditional Marxist view by ascribing a crucial role to culture and ideology, in his analysis of the socio-political system.
With a focus on human personality, their struggles and a ‘self-active political
education and autonomous organization of the proletarian political culture’ (Martin,
200, p.311), Gramsci boldly opposed Marxism’s simplistic notions of the proletariat
eventually propelling into victory. Instead, he formulated a concept that allows for the ‘confrontation between differing cultures where hegemony has to be negotiated and won’ (Newbold in Boyd-Barett and Newbold, 1995, p.329).
Diagram 1: A visualization of the change in the components of society’s superstructures (Bates, 1975).
The above diagram envisaged Gramsci’s study of the role of intellectuals in
society that led him to break down the superstructure into two great “floors,” which he described as “civil society” and “political society” (Bates, 1975, p.353). The upper level consists of the political society which is composed of public institutions like the government, courts, police and army, capable of exercising direct power and aggression. The political society is also known as a site of repression with the use of legal state apparatuses of coercive power.
On the second level is the civil society, comprising private organizations like schools, places of worship, clubs and parties that contribute to the formation of social and political consciousness. Civil society is seen as a marketplace of ideas, where intellectuals enter as “salesmen” of contending cultures (ibid.). Intellectuals are the builders of society and on whom society is dependent on, ‘there is no organization without intellectuals, that is, without organizers and leaders’ (Gramsci in Martin, 2001, p.111). Only the “winning” intellectuals are able to produce and impose cultural hegemony upon the population through the use of ideological apparatuses such as education and the mass media.
Intellectuals who are able to extend the world-view and ideas of the rulers to the
ruled as “common sense” and secure the “free” consent or the consensual will of the
masses, have thus, created hegemony. Therefore, a functioning hegemony is when ‘the
political leadership based on the consent of the led… is secured by the diffusion and popularization of the world-view of the ruling class’ (Bates, 1975, p.352). However, for hegemony to maintain itself successfully, simply depending on the “spontaneous” consent given by the masses is insufficient. There needs to be an enforcement of the coercive state apparatuses by the political society which legally constraint groups that do not consent. Nonetheless, when spontaneous consent fail, where the ruling class ‘is no longer “leading” but only “dominant”, exercising coercive force alone’ (Gramsci, 1971, p.276). This means that the ruled no longer are subsumed under the old hegemony. There is a crisis of authority and a necessity to create a new political culture.
Gramsci (1971, p.5) stated that ‘all men are intellectuals, one could therefore
say; but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals’ where ‘the mode of being the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence… but an active
participation in practical life’ (ibid, p.10). The transformation of a lowly average man from the proletariat class into an intellectual requires one to not only possess a certain technical capacity but also be a leader who is vigorously involved in all activities so as to be visible to the masses. In this, as espoused by Gramsci, the potential intellectual needs to be taught a new type of skill and political knowledge. However, ‘the distance between high levels of specialization and the intellectual skills of the vast majority of people is maintained as a traditional split between people, intellectuals and specialized knowledge continues’ (Showstack, 1987, p.271). Hence, the development of intellectuals from the proletariat class (or citizens of the ruled) is severely stunted, resulting in the conditions for a full expansion of social equality to be massively underdeveloped.
An ‘old order cannot be made to vanish simply by pointing out its evils, any
more than a new order can be brought into existence by pointing out its virtues’ (Bates, 1975, p.365). The element of ideology is crucial in political struggle, but it is not easy to change completely the consciousness of the ruled. The proletariat party desiring to replace the hegemonic State needs to be able to impress upon the masses of its counter hegemonic beliefs that is able to lead ‘the working class beyond the limits of the existing bourgeois democracy’ (Lawrence and Wishart, 1978, p.288).
In order for counter hegemony to work, it needs to be coherent and better than
the prevailing hegemony, ‘not only in their moral conduct, but also in their technical know-how’ (Bates, 1975, p.365). If this is successful, it may result in a crisis of authority or the failure of the current ruling class. People would then cease to trust the ruling leadership and henceforth, abandon the party.
However, to take over and become the ruling or “bourgeois” culture itself requires a ‘combination of cultural and ideological elements derived from different class locations’ (Bennett in Boyd-Barrett and Chris Newbold, 1995, p.351). In other words, those who want to be the ruling party in society, needs to take into consideration and accept what other classes want as well, in order to sustain and legitimize their domination.
In today’s context, Gramsci’s theorizations are quite underdeveloped as very
few academic papers have yet to use them in the study of new media. These new media
platforms, to which the masses could freely access, are the new ideological spaces for political socializations. Through them, civil and political societies are able to disseminate both hegemonic and counter hegemonic values and contents. Furthermore, application to Malaysian politics and blogosphere has to date, not been done before.
I am focusing on Gramsci’s concept of the everyday intellectuals becoming the
ultimate intellectuals or leaders in society, to analyze whether this can similarly happen to the average Malaysian blogger. In the Malaysian blogosphere, there are both extensions of the State’s dogmas as well as opposing and contentious ideologies that float freely. There are no clear distinctions between the two, due to the fragmentary nature and massive number of blogs online that are constantly changing. I will then analyze the extent to which the Malaysian blogosphere, are able to carry a dominant version of an anti-government and “democratizing” effects as though it were the only naturalized culture. Nevertheless, I will contend that in the end, it is not wholly democratic as it is actually structured to privilege those who already have some power and influence.
For non-homogenous societies with deep social cleavages, suuch as Malaysia,
using Gramsci’s theoriization of consensual ‘collective will’ may result in various
complexities. Due to thee heterogeneous background that each Malaysia an citizen has, in terms of access to the Innternet, education, culture, class position, religiion and others, it becomes immensely harrd to find common points to reach consensus. This reflects the “struggles” faced by thhe average blogger who usually has low de egrees of power, resource and influence.. Hence, there are uncertainties as to whethe er such struggles actually do happen and if they do, whether they can transform the aver rage blogger into commanding intellectua als.
3.2 Produsaging for whhat sort of “E-democracy”?
E-democracy co omprises the use of electronic communication t technologies like
the Internet, in enhancinng democratic processes within a representativee democracy. As seen in most of the lit terature reviews, the main aims are to produc ce better policies through increasing citiz zens’ accessibility and participation in public policy decision-making and ensuring ddirect engagements with the government (Kl luver and Yang, 2003). E-democracy alloows for greater transparency and accountability,, not only for the production of better pollicies and more democratic processes, but also in increasing the State’s political legitima acy.
Diagram 2: The produsage process -producer and user no longer are separated but becomes one produser (Bruns, 2008).
As proposed by Axel Bruns (2008), that is reflected in the diagram, ‘in
collaborative communities, the creation of shared content takes place in a networked, participatory environment which breaks down the boundaries’ and allow all participants to be users as well as producers of information and knowledge. This produsage-based culture mimics democratizing processes in the blogosphere which includes decentralization, fluidity and a heterarchical7 structure in distributing power horizontally and more equally.
User led content production is dependent on ‘very large communities of
participants (to) make a number of usually very small incremental changes to the
established knowledge base’ (Bruns, 2008, p.1). In this, bloggers may use mainstream
news as references or built up on each others’ contributions and responses.
Subsequently this results in an ‘avalanche of consumer generated content that is
building on the Web, adding tera-beta bytes of new text, images, audio and video on an ongoing basis’ (Trendwatching.com, 2005). Nevertheless, there is a tendency for like-minded individuals to link up that may further delineate groups based on their differing values and varying levels of resources that they own collectively. This contradicts the notion for an all inclusive platform in promoting democracy.
( Hetararchy is the opposite of hierarchy, where power and authority are spread out over a horizontal structure that tends to overlap and mix)
Citizen journalism, through the use of socio-political blogs is a huge part of e-
democracy that ‘offers a multitude of alternative, produsage based models for the user-led selection, coverage and discussion of new stories’ (Bruns, 2008, p.73). Despite being able to gain different points of views and having a wider choice when
participating in discussion threads of their interests, critical bloggers or blog readers will be limited to a minority who are privileged, well educated and skilled. The less educated majority would end up consuming passively or have no access at all due to digital divide. Furthermore, ‘the ideal of the informed citizen is breaking down because here is simply too much for any individual to know’ (Jenkins, 2006, p.259). Therefore, with new forms of knowledge creation there needs rapid developments of the network infrastructure as well as ‘new skills in collaboration and a new ethic of knowledge sharing’ (ibid.) where most developing countries may not be able to cater for.
Bruns (2008, p.344) asserts that produsaging democracy ‘not so much perhaps
leading to its casual collapse per se, but to a significant reinvigoration of citizen participation to democratic processes’. In this, it is important to be skeptical of e-democracy’s transformative potential that may not necessarily happen and instead be an extension of the authoritative State rulings. However, what is significant is that, it is not merely about toppling certain forms of governance but ‘towards their reinvention in a new participatory context’ (Rushkoff, 2003). This includes the formation of new forms of engagements between citizens with their governments and the existing power structures.
In a 2004 seminar for Enterprise and Information Society led by the European
Commission, where Erkki Liikanen (2004, p.4), stated that all the European countries
have progressively been developing e-government plans and strategies for citizens’
online voting and participation solutions. Preceding that, IPSOS European Survey
(2006) assessed 115 million Europeans and found that 6 in 10 Europeans have heard of
blogging with 1 out of 5 have read a blog before. These go to show that through the
support and investments made by the governing bodies, e-democracy is able to flourish with the growing participation from the European population.
‘Bloggers do hope that they will gain influence on European politics in the
future’ (Trepte & Huber, 2007) but they acknowledge that this could only happen
through collectivism and networking. Nonetheless, there has yet to exist a unified
community or social movement online. Antagonistic political attitudes still exist, there is no comprehensive collective identification that links all Europeans together and even when there are collective goals, people are reluctant to participate (ibid.). However, an endeavor in unification is being made through the Bloggingportal.eu8 (2009), with the combined efforts amongst many leading European socio-political bloggers. Such efforts to mine data from blogs, help blog readers to cope with the ‘sheer volume, variety of opinions and time constraints’ (Liikanen, 2004, p.2-3). It reflects how bloggers themselves have the ability to network and come together to promote new ways for political engagements, all as part in produsaging democracy online.
(Bloggingportal.eu is an organization that syndicates the content from more than 300 multilingual blogs writing on the European Union (EU).
In America, Pew Research Centre (2006) released a survey finding where ‘some
50 million Americans go to the Internet for news on a typical day’ which ‘coincides
with the rapid growth of broadband adoption in American homes’ and where the
‘overall Internet penetration rose to 70%,’ with ‘74 million people (37% of adult
American)’ logging online. American politicians from both the Democrat and
Republican, recognize that the Internet allows for the unconventional ways of direct
messaging to specific audiences, especially the untapped young voters.
Thus the race is for ‘the rewriting of rules on advertising, fund-raising, mobilizing supporters and even the spread of negative information’ (Nagourney, 2006). However, with a race to control
the technology, there is an inherent fear of blogs becoming institutionalized and a
political apparatus for propaganda by political groups or media conglomerates. If this happens, the claims for produsaging democracy become a convenient way to mislead individuals to think that they are participating in an essentially “free” and independent culture.
As compared to their Western counterparts, there seem to be a dearth of recent
academic studies done on e-democracy and Asia as a whole. It may be that the concept
of democracy is still being seen as a Euro-American master term of ideoscapes that
‘was constructed with a certain internal logic and presupposed a certain relationship between reading, representation and public sphere’ (Appadurai, 1996, p.35). Therefore, non-European and non-American countries may ‘have organized their political cultures around different keywords’ (ibid.) since they are not able to fully associate with the term, viewing it as an alien concept. Asia is conveniently seen as wanting to ‘buck the trend and resist the global pressures to democratize’ (Grugel, 2002, p.226) by using her “Asian values” that have heavy influences from the Confucianism. Ironically, such values9 are also held by some Western countries. This goes to show that the Eastern/Western dichotomy is problematic as values and cultures are not permanently encased on any set of inherited traditions and are instead, fluid and complex, especially
more so with the spurring development of technology and the Internet.
(Examples of Asian values include: social order, hierarchy and the importance of an uncritical respect for the authority)
For Asian countries, developments in information communications technology
(ICT) and the Internet started with a perception that ‘efficient telecommunications
infrastructure as a crucial element in the attraction of investments… essential to the building of a country’s economic competitiveness’ (Kluver and Yang, 2003, p.1). Based on a global e-government study carried out by Brown University (2006), ‘Asian
countries once again dominate e-government ratings, taking three of the top five spots’. Hence, economic and capitalistic considerations are the primary reasons for rapid developments in Asian ICTs where the secondary effects have caused citizens’
democratic deliberations online, such as through the socio-political blogs.
In a research released by Microsoft’s MSN and Windows Live Online Services
Business and analyzed by India PR Wire (2006), Asia’s blogosphere is ‘fueled by youth with almost half of all bloggers (56%) under 25, while 35% are 25-34 years old and 9% are 35 years old and over’. Asian netizens are most attracted to blogs updates on daily life by their families and friends as well as blogs that are updated regularly and written with striking pictures. This goes to show that their blog consumption were mainly for socialization purposes in getting connected with others, and not really for socio-political discussions with ‘politicians fared poorly across the region with only 14% interested in reading their blogs’ (ibid, p.1).
The survey also showed that 50% of the survey respondents view blog content
as ‘trustworthy as traditional media’ and find blogs as the ‘quickest way to learn about news and current affairs’ (ibid, p.2). Hence, this translates to a high potentiality for blogs as a medium for information seeking, citizen deliberation and subsequently, the advancement of e-democracy. Nonetheless, due to Asia’s highly diverse make-up in terms of cultural values and ways of governances, technology developments become greatly disparate, with the degree of control over online content to differ according to each individual country’s policies. Thus, the Internet in Asia ‘does not create a unique space of freedom, but is merely an extension of the offline public and private spheres within which citizens communicate’ (Chattopadhyay and Chun, 2005).
The produsage model is technologically deterministic and in a sense problematic
as it assumes that the blogger cum produser has full autonomy in production and
consumption due to the relatively liberated conditions provided by the blogosphere.
However, in reality it needs to consider other social and human factors like the State policies and regulations over the Internet, society’s attitudes towards blogging and the issue of digital divide that may prevent the individual from becoming a blogger and participating as a produser for democracy. Furthermore, bloggers may not necessarily participate with the sole aim to further e-democracy and instead be part of it for other apolitical reasons such as for entertainment and socialization. With all these in mind, in Chapter 6, I will analyze the extent to which produsaging democracy within Malaysian blogosphere can bring about social transformations that goes beyond the online.
Chapter 4: Research Methodology
4.0 Research Methodology
In attempting to address the research objectives and aims of this study, the
following methods of qualitative field research were used; semi-structured face to face
interviews and email interviews as well as short open-ended preliminary surveys. This
multiple method technique entails ‘using more than one method or source of data in the
study of social phenomena’ (Bryman, 2001) leading to a more comprehensive and in-
depth data collected.
4.1 Semi structured Face to Face and Email Interviews
Semi structured face to face and email interviews were conducted as they allow
greater flexibility, depth and range of topics to be covered, ‘qualitative interviewing
design is flexible, iterative and continuous, rather than prepared in advance and locked
in stone’(Rubin, 1995). I have selected individuals of any nationality who are keeping
up with Malaysian news and politics online; have a good knowledge on the topic and
actively discusses it, whether online or offline, as my subjects for analysis.
The purpose of the interviews was to obtain the ground sentiments from an
average Malaysian citizen or non-Malaysian onlooker and their perspectives on the
potentials and threats that blogging can bring to Malaysia. In addition, the interviews
were conducted to ascertain their expectations of the role of online alternative media,
particularly the socio-political blogs, in shaping e-democracy in Malaysia.
Snowball sampling was appropriate for this study because as indicated by a brief
pilot study that I have conducted, those who actually consume online news and
alternative views are still of a minority albeit critical group. Therefore, this research
requires a purposive selection of those who have the skills and means to access the
online political sphere in Malaysia. However this also meant that a bias exists where
only the viewpoints of the privileged few will be reported. It must also be noted that
some of the respondents are experts in their fields. Therefore, in writing this
dissertation, I am constantly made aware of the prevailing issue of digital divide and the
absence of a more inclusive voice in the Malaysian society.
A preliminary survey was also used to collect data on demographics and an
overview of Internet and blog consumption of each respondent. This was then followed
by an hour long face to face interview session or a self-administered open-ended email
questionnaire. I also did multiple follow-ups through emails in clarifying any doubts I
had about their statements and extending to them, other related questions.
I deliberately chose only the first names of respondents to be reported, because
one respondent requested as such and I decided to implement this on the other
respondents as well, not only for consistency but also to protect their privacy. I
observed that all the respondents were rather enthusiastic as they believe that their
inputs will bring forth some good to the Malaysian society. Furthermore, most of them
are not situated within Malaysia and hence, do not feel any form of constraint in airing
Throughout the whole interview process, reflexivity was practiced in which I
tried to eliminate any bias or preconceived understandings that I had about a certain
issue or personality mentioned by the respondents. In addition, I took the initiative to
study any books, journals, websites, blogs or videos, recommended by my interview
respondents that subsequently enabled me to collect a corpus of secondary research
data. I also allowed the categories and themes for the analysis to emerge from the data,
instead of testing for the existence of pre-defined categories.
4.2 The Interviewed “Intellectuals”
Within a two months period (December 2008 to January 2009) a total of 10 face
to face interviews and 2 email interviews10 were conducted. All the respondents were
tertiary educated with occupations such as professional banker, manager, journalist,
teacher, academic, civil servant and university student. They range between the ages of
18 to 55 years old.
Table 1: Demographic details of the 12 interview respondents.
No. Name Method Nationality Occupation
1 *Alvin Face-to-face Singaporean (previously Malaysian) Civil servant
2 Mei Face-to-face Singapore PR/Malaysian Civil servant
3 Chin Face-to-face Singapore PR/Malaysian Manager
4 *Jian Face-to-face Malaysian Undergraduate
5 Filzah Face-to-face Singapore PR/Malaysian Teacher
6 Christine Face-to-face Singaporean (previously Malaysian) Undergraduate
7 Edwin Face-to-face Malaysian Undergraduate
8 Anuar Face-to-face Singaporean (previously Malaysian) Teacher
9 Shahril Face-to-face Singaporean Masters student
10 *Ridhwan Face-to-face Singaporean Undergraduate
11 *Gabrielle Email Malaysian Intern at Malaysiakini
12 *Balan - Email Malaysian Banker
There are five Singaporeans with two originally from Singapore and three,
previously were Malaysians. Three of the respondents are Malaysians, whilst the rest
are Singapore Permanent Residents (PR) and still Malaysian citizens. Five of them
(refer to the table list of respondents’ names with an asterisk *) at the time of the
interviews owned their own blogs and all are moderately active readers of online news.
There are 4 females and 8 male respondents, with 7 who are Chinese, 4 Malays
and 1 Indian. Five of the respondents have 6 to 10 years of computer use experience,
whereas the rest have 11 years or more, with a majority spending more than 19 hours
online per week.
During the interviews, I asked the respondents of how they view e-democracy to
be like within the Malaysian blogosphere and of whether it has impacted the offline
society. I also queried on their views towards socio-political blogs and to what extent
they and other bloggers have contributed to Malaysia’s e-democracy.
Chapter 5: Findings & Analysis
Counter Hegemony and the New Intellectuals
There does not exist any independent class of intellectuals, but every social group has
its own stratum of intellectuals, or tends to form one.
Antonio Gramsci in Media, Culture and Morality by Keith Tester, 1994.
5.0 Findings & Analysis: Counter Hegemony and the New Intellectuals
This chapter presents the findings that show to what extent blogs can become a
space for negotiating multiple sets of ideologies by the civil societies, the oppositional
parties and ruling regime. I will look into the interview respondents’ views on how
blogging is able to shape counter hegemony that is different from that of the State
controlled mainstream media. Next, I will investigate how this counter hegemony may
give birth to new forms of intellectuals from the subordinate classes as proposed by
Gramsci. In this, I will also analyze the respondents’ view of themselves as
intellectuals, in leading this counter hegemonic power.
5.1 Shaping counter hegemony online
Most of the respondents view civil societies and the oppositional political parties
within the blogosphere as “activists” who use the online space to advance and bring
awareness to the public of their cause. There exists a marketplace of ideas within the
Malaysian blogosphere, where intellectuals from contending groups enter as “salesmen”
in aggressively promoting their rebellious ideologies.
There are political or activist blogs that put their opinions on them. They try to have
active discussions and highlight important issues in the country. Then there are those
trying to garner support, whether physical or monetary, especially during the elections.
An example is Jeff Ooi, a blogger turned politician, through his blog alone he
collected RM100,000 for campaign funds. – Edwin
Jeff Ooi or Ooi Chuan Aun is one of the more prominent socio-political bloggers in Malaysia. He has been dubbed
by Malaysiakini as owning “Malaysia’s Most Influential Blog” and was awarded the “Freedom Blogs Awards (Asia
category)” by Reporters Without Borders in 2005. He owns Screenshots (http://www.jeffooi.com/) where he did
most of his political campaign fundraising. He is now a Member of the Parliament, under the oppositional
Democratic Action Party (DAP). On January 11, 2007 he was accused and sued by News Straits Times Press (NSTP) to
have more than 10 libelous postings on his blog. This lawsuit gave birth to the Bloggers United campaign that
establishes a fund to protect unfairly detained bloggers and protect their rights for freedom of speech in their blogs
Blogs also allow for individuals to correct whatever that have been misconstrued by the
mainstream media. Hence, respondents feel that blogs are more trustworthy as they are
able to provide different points of views which were previously censored.
"These blogs allow (oppositional) politicians to correct or contest whatever has been
‘mis-said’ by the mainstream media. So the same issue can now be seen in two or more
perspectives. – Shahril "
As mentioned in Chapter 2, due to the Reformasi incident and the government
controlled mainstream media, opposition are the ones who are leveraging upon the
online platform. This inevitably, gives the impression that socio-political blogs are only
for political dissidents. However, one respondent point out that bloggers from both the
oppositional parties and the ruling regime use the medium to perform “political
assassinations” in the form of verbal abuse and insults, on their opponents. Usually such
bloggers employ an emotive tone in their writings, in order to appeal to their readers.
"I think all news in Malaysia, whether mainstream or alternative are quite emotional. It’s
a borderless world where nobody can control, you can just add in your views online
without any hesitation… then it is no longer e-democracy but an “e-democrazy”. –
This respondent also feels that there are both extensions of State propaganda as well as
contentious ideologies that float freely and even overlap with one another.
"Even in the alternative media, I am not sure what the people (bloggers and blog readers)
want. To some extent they want alternative ways that are democratizing but some feel
that State authoritarianism should be the way. Activists are quite questionable as they
do not have a cohesive view. They failed to bring the people together to work towards
common points. – Ridhwan"
There are no clear distinctive counter ideologies due to the fragmentary conditions of
the blog contents and the huge number of blogs available online that is continuously
changing. These result in an endless struggle for ideological control and being unable to
adequately convince all citizens to put their stake in counter hegemony and overthrow
the State’s hegemony.
5.2 Counter hegemony leading to the crisis of authority
Socio-political blogs do expose the irrationality and the unfairness of the
“common sense” imposed by the State onto citizens. When the State’s common sense
no longer works, respondents recognize that there is much distrust and anger felt by
netizens, towards the State and therefore, a crisis of authority. Many of the respondents
emphasized on the issue of contentious bloggers who were unfairly detained without
trial under the government’s Internal Security Act (ISA).
"Look what happen when the government used the ISA to capture Raja Petra
Kamarudin. Blogs came alive, mobilizing the average citizen to launched mass
protests. The government is still using the old method of force but they need to realize
force can only be used to a certain extent. – Alvin"
All these imply that the Malaysian society is at a disjuncture, where a new political
culture needs to be developed. Citizens do have some form of agency and autonomy
where the success of a certain hegemonic ruling is largely dependent on adopting
"Raja Petra Kamarudin is the editor for the Malaysia Today website and a famous contentious anti-government blogger. He is deeply against money politics, corruption and ethnic polarization that are prevalent in Malaysia. He was detained twice under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for comments allegedly insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad. However, he was freed after the High Court Justice granted his petition and ruled that his detention was illegal. His case is often mentioned in various petitions pushing for the government to review the ISA"
"When people have been extended certain benefits or freedom to them, it is extremely
difficult to extract it away from them. Malaysians have tasted certain levels of
empowerment with the blogs and the spread of information, the impact seen on the
elections. It is just a starting point and Malaysians may demand for the platform to be
freer. – Chin"
However, as realistically put by a respondent, the process for a total social
transformation is not easy, or may even be impossible. This is especially so with
backward State leaders who fear a backlash if they were to be lenient towards the
"The whole government has to be taken over by a group of technocratic elites. Those
who are IT savvy and knows IT is an integral part of governance. Right now, the
hardcore ones are the technologically backward group who do not appreciate this
“mess”… for them it is a mess! They are afraid that a can of worms will be opened. We
need to wait for this whole bunch to pass away. – Alvin"
"In addition, another respondent feels that the opposition is still unable to provide a
strong alternative or counter hegemony, to the ruling party.
The opposition’s performance improved drastically in the last elections, but so far, they
have failed to prove themselves as a credible alternative to the ruling party. – Gabrielle"
5.3 Putting subjects into place
In order for counter hegemony to successfully transform into society’s
overriding hegemony, “spontaneous” consent by the masses is crucial. It seems that
despite the efforts by citizens to go online to get alternative perspectives, most blog
readers are still uncritically consuming what is put forth before them.
"Malaysian politics, there are scandals, the corruptions… I guess that is why there is an
interest for me, sensationalizing of Malaysian politics. – Ridhwan"
Moreover, narrowcasting is an unavoidable technique to use in the blogosphere where
the blog contents are aimed at specific segments of the Malaysian society as defined by
values, preferences or demographic attributes. Some of the respondents feel that what
appeal to these blog readers are news on political scandals and racial based interests,
rather than participating in socio-political discussions for nationwide interests.
"Blogs have very little agency. I visit a certain site and it is full of people who think alike
with me. What happens is that there is very little diversity of ideas… a reflection of
communal politics, it is usually one way. – Jian"
These result in like-minded individuals to congregate together, basing themselves on
racially stratified groups that hold on to pre-existing offline values. Furthermore, due to
the enormous amount of information given to them, the respondents often become
overwhelmed. They feel that it is mentally tough for them to go beyond the realm of
their own value and belief systems and accept opposing ideas.
"It is mentally taxing to get a whole bunch of information and trying to find something
of coherence… and they may be opposing to my own values. – Jian"
Nonetheless, they could easily evade sites that have transgressed their ideas of what
their version of the “truth” is.
"I cannot recall why or what I googled for but I recall reading a post on an issue and
reading varied responses, that made me ‘dizzy’ and confused. I try to avoid those. –
5.4 The new intellectuals?
e-democracy and views himself as being unable to separate politics from living.
Almost all recognize the standards in being a “serious blogger” or the new intellectual
for the blogosphere. These include, being able to have a widespread reach, have high
quality and accurate blog content as well as stories published need to be recent and
relevant to their target readers.
"Certainly my blog is political, I think many have realized the other side of the coin by
reading my blog as reflected in some of the blog comments I have received. – Balan"
"There are three definitions to me; first is to be able to maximize the blog as a tool to
disseminate your ideas and promote to as many people as possible to gain reputation.
Second is to strive to improve blog content in terms of accuracy and also attractiveness.
Third is devoting a great amount of effort and time in maintaining the blog’s up-to-
dateness. – Gabrielle"
Nevertheless, having sophisticated technical (blogging) skills alone, does not
necessarily translate into giving the person authority over society. The blogger needs to
exist beyond the blogosphere by actively participating in numerous offline activities in
gaining recognition amongst the majority who are outside the blogging community.
"You cannot stay behind a computer and just write, offline is still needed…
campaigning, giving outdoor speeches and meeting the non-blogging people. – Mei"
Most of the respondents do not view themselves as the new intellectuals of the
Malaysian blogosphere. Instead, they see themselves as the powerless underdog, with
little following where their writings are viewed as casual and not taken seriously.
"I am not the person who has the power to decide, the underdog… I still feel if every
citizen is given the authority to do what they want, there will be chaos. – Mei"
Many are reluctant to start blogging or blog extensively because they feel that they may
put something online but due to the massive number of blogs, no one apart from their
small network of acquaintances will actually look at it.
"(My blog has) a very mild impact because I know the number of people visiting, not
very flattering. I am not a serious blogger. – Jian"
Some of the respondents even claim that based on their experiences in reading blogs,
they find that many of the bloggers are actually out to create trouble, spread propaganda
"Any Tom, Dick or Harry can write, but if they critique without evidence or research, if
people were to read and just follow blindly, they are purposely creating trouble. – Mei"
The respondents aired their reservations in believing most of the blogs’ contents as they
find many to be unreliable. Hence, they feel that a large majority of the average
Malaysian bloggers will never reach the standard of effective leaders.
"They are mostly emotional. When they like one person, they will magnify that person…
do not know how true their contents are… very myopic and one centric kind of view –
However, socio-political blogs that are deemed to be credible and reflective of popular
sentiments are those written by individuals who already have some political clout and
influence before they went online to become bloggers. They consist of bloggers who
were previously, or still are journalists and influential figures. These bloggers, albeit
to a limited extent, could perhaps be the new “intellectuals” for Malaysia’s blogosphere.
"I do not read ordinary people’s blogs. You need to have someone recognized by society
and given the legitimacy to speak. Only through these people then can information be
authentic as these people need to be accountable for what they write, since what is at
stake is their political position. They will be put to task and questioned by the public or
their political opponents. – Shahril"
As frequently listed by the respondents, one of them is the previous Prime Minister Mahathir who was himself for
a period of time, blocked by the government controlled mainstream media, leading him to open up his own blog
(http://chedet.co.cc/chedetblog/). Recently, he compiled his blog entries and published them in a book.
Others included: Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Nurul Izzah, Teresa Kok, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Hadi Awang, Ahirudin Attan
(Rocky Bru), Sheih (Kickdefella), etc"
Chapter 6: Findings & Analysis
We can’t reinvent the instruments of communication and collective thought without
reinventing democracy, a distributed, active, molecular democracy… by systematically
producing the tools that will enable it to shape itself into intelligent communities,
capable of negotiating the stormy seas of change, Pierre Levy in Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to
Produsage, by Axel Bruns, 2008.
6.0 Findings & Analysis: Produsaging E-democracy
As a continuation from Chapter 5, this chapter looks into the potentiality of the
ordinary Malaysian bloggers as produsers of democracy online. It examines the issue of
digital divide within the Malaysian society and of the immense yet fragmented
information available online. This chapter also investigates whether through the
Malaysian blogosphere, actual societal and revolutionary transformations, can be made,
or whether it is simply an illusion of empowerment for the average Malaysian blogger.
6.1 A citizen to citizen connection
As seen through the respondents themselves, the Malaysian blogosphere goes
beyond location and geographical boundaries, getting far greater reach than what the
mainstream media could ever achieve. All the respondents except for two are located
outside Malaysia and most have dual nationalities with a few who are non-Malaysians.
"Although this is my adopted home (Singapore) and I quite like it here… there is still a
place in my heart for Malaysia, naturally I am curious… even for Singaporeans not
born or bred in Malaysia, they should know about news in Malaysia, it is just next door.
Blogging is a platform where both Malaysians and non-Malaysians can make
contributions as well as gain knowledge about the different perspectives available on a
current political or societal issue.
"I can read ten blogs and I can have ten opinions or have same opinions but ten different
ways of explaining it. Then I can have a bigger picture, of whether to believe this
opinion or trust this choice or not. It gives me a wider choice, other than just the
newspaper. – Mei"
This reflects how much blogs are user-led content productions, which are dependent on
other participants to make small yet many incremental additions or comments to their
"It is like a sharing session, people who share the same concerns with me would
comment, as well as those whom I do not know, as far as USA and the Middle East.
These people who read my blog are those who have a stake. Or it can be because the
issue at that time is very hot so people just come in to read different perspectives and
some may comment. – Ridhwan"
This heterarchical structure in power distribution mimics the democratizing processes of
decentralization, fluidity and equality in knowledge sharing and giving. Nevertheless,
the issue of access with Malaysia’s rural and urban divide will contest this democratic
effect that will be analyzed in the following section.
6.2 The digital divide conundrum
All the respondents feel that access to the Internet is still restricted to a
privileged few and those who visit socio-political blogs are those who are better
"There is a certain self-selection, those who go to socio-political blogs will generally be
a bit more educated or politically concerned than the average citizen. The ability of
blogs to influence the masses is still limited. – Chin"
In addition, there exists a large discrepancy within the rural and urban divide in
Malaysia. This contributes to the increasing digital divide across the Malaysian society.
One respondent believes that those from the rural areas have no interest at all to partake
in online debates when they have to struggle for their basic daily needs.
"By using or subscribing to Internet, we are marginalizing… the elderly who may not be
IT literate and also the poor who do not even own proper home facilities. Therefore,
such groups are highly unlikely to have Internet access, simply because it is not a
necessity for their survival. Yet they are often the ones who are affected by
governmental policies and have no say in them – Filzah"
Even in the more urbanized areas, the Internet penetration is still low as compared to
other neighboring countries like Singapore. According to a respondent, this is due to the
poor network connections and lack of computers available for use.
"I was back in Malaysia and my Internet connection there is sketchy. One is computer
problems and two, the streaming connection there sucks. My friends used to call the
connection in Malaysia, “shit-mix”. – Jian"
With the uneven development of technological and network infrastructure in Malaysia,
produsaging democracy becomes a façade, where in reality it is only for the privileged
6.3 Fragmentation of information
Most of the respondents agree that this alternative medium allows for the
quickest way to learn about news that has been blocked by the mainstream media.
Moreover, those who obtain new information from socio-political blogs would spread it
through word of mouth or print the online information out for those who are offline.
"Urbanites who have been empowered by knowledge gained from websites or blogs
spread their knowledge to their offline contemporaries. This allows for "online politics"
to affect even those who are offline. For example, in the last election, many Internet
iliterate adults were persuaded by their children to vote for the opposition. – Gabrielle"
However, it is also agreed that there is far too much information available online, for an
individual to coherently comprehend and know which information are true and which
are not. Blogging content are seen as fragmentary and could easily distort certain facts.
This may lead blog readers to only read what they are accustomed to and avoid those
that are out of the norm or opposing to their views.
"The thing about e-democracy is that they cherry pick. The readers only read selective
blogs that tend to reinforce their perception. If you support PAS, you just read Harakah
and PAS related blogs and if you are Keadilan, you might read Raja Petra blogs or any
other pro-Keadilan blogs and if you are Chinese, most of us read DAP like Teresa
Kok’s blogs. – Edwin"
A respondent suggested that there needs to be an organization or person who is able to
compile and aggregate all the blogging content in a comprehensive manner in making
blogging an impactful platform for produsaging e-democracy.
"Blogs are like the building blocks of online democracy… if there is a smart guy who
can compile them together, it can actually be a powerful tool. One does not make a
difference, but if many, it can make a quite powerful punch. – Alvin"
6.4 Just another platform?
There are respondents who feel that blogs are just another avenue in extending
what is already available in the offline.
"Blogs can also be an advanced tool for rumor mongering and speculation. Malaysians
have the habit of listening to rumors and gossips and now they have began to turn
online for the same purpose. – Balan"
Another respondent states that blogs are an alternative way to spread ideologies and will
not by itself, result in societal changes within Malaysia.
"I believe that it is a multiple approach taken by the opposition to get into the online
community and at the same time go to the rural communities. I believe for online itself
is not sufficient, it is just part of it, you need it but it is not sufficient to say that online
could change the whole of the Malaysian political fabric. – Ridhwan"
Almost all respondents believe that there are already or will exist better interactive
applications to replace the blogging platform. Recommendations include, Youtube,
Twitter and Facebook.
"Youtube is actually very good because people upload a lot of political speeches, all the
ceramah (speeches) go online because the conventional media will block them. – Edwin"
"Instead of blogging, many people are now utilizing Twitter and Facebook notes to
spread information. They may be more effective as updates are immediately visible to a
particular person's network of friends, whereas it takes time to hop from one blog to
another. – Gabrielle"
6.5 How “free” is free?
The Malaysian blogosphere can be seen as a space where different ideologies
and cultures freely come together to be contested and negotiated. A respondent
highlighted the fact that the increasing power of the Internet does not necessarily lead to
citizens being “free” and empowered. To the contrary, citizens who are not as educated
and skilled may be misled by certain dogmas and unknowingly become the agents in
"If these people are that gullible to begin with, there need not be blogging to influence
them… an uncle at the coffee shop could easily influence them. But before the Internet,
the uncle could influence 10 people when he talks to 10 people but now with Internet, at
one go you could influence thousands of people. – Chin"
At first glance, due to the commonly held notions that participation on cyberspace
equates to the Western conceptualization of democracy as being totally free, blogs may
seem to carry a dominant version of such a liberated culture. Nevertheless, some of the
respondents feel that Malaysia need not subscribe to the Western formulations of
democracy and instead, blogging with “responsibility” is more appropriate and makes a
blogger more credible.
"It is better that they self-censor themselves, rather than making irresponsible remarks.
We should not be advocating for frivolous spreading of rumors, without any responsible
claims. – Shahril"
The respondents themselves, despite having received Western education, are still
conforming to certain aspects of Asian values. They are aware that some bloggers may
have their own political agendas and propaganda. Yet they feel they need some form of
“proof” that they believe could be sustained, if it is held by ‘trusted’ and reputable
"A good blog is one that makes cross references with official and trusted sites… I do not
really find the posts to be credible unless they are from the government websites. –
Some respondents believe that there is a tendency for blogs to be full of lies, where a
better option would be to use the offline media, whether belonging to the government or
the oppositional parties.
"There are many lies and unverified stories in blogs. If bloggers are honest enough, I
suggest that they should use the offline media, can be government or oppositional
publications. – Anuar"
There is also some reluctance to blog on racial and religious issues that are viewed as
sensitive, especially with the existence of uncritical and emotional readers. Making such
issues invisible will sustain the racial polarization within the Malaysian society and not
contribute to a “freer” society.
"Raising of sensitive issues such as race, religion and constitution can be dangerous to a
multi-racial Malaysia. Recent incidents suggest that Malaysians are not responsible
enough on the net and Malaysian public are an emotional lot especially when issues of
race and religion are discussed. – Balan"
Most of the respondents stated that they find a majority of blogs as uncritical with
frivolous updates on mundane things and have no respect for them.
"For the sheer amount of the blogs when you have 95 percent being utter crap. Some do
not even write with complete and proper sentences and I hate those. I hate those diary-
like blogs that are extremely self-centered, blogging about the silliest things. – Chin"
Furthermore, all the respondents believe that those who go online are mainly seeking
entertainment, rather than to read social and political issues on blogs and news sources.
One respondent acknowledges that she is so busy with her offline activities such as
school and family, that she goes online primarily for relaxation and fun and is not really
motivated to seek news on socio-political blogs. Therefore, being part of the Malaysian
blogosphere does not essentially attribute an individual as a produser of e-democracy.
"I go online for socialization and entertainment purposes. Not really to seek news, I
hardly read socio-political blogs because I am not really interested in them. Nowadays,
I seldom keep up with the political scene in Malaysia, although I would like to… but I
am too busy with work. – Christine"
Chapter 7: Conclusion
The Malaysian blogosphere does to a limited extent provide a catalyst in the
formation of counter hegemony. Socio-political blogs still end up as an online extension
for the reproduction of offline ideologies that are heavily embedded with racially
stratified messages. Under a veneer of freedom of expression, there is a fear that one
would helplessly slip through from democracy to control as the Malaysian government
tries to regulate its blogosphere through both ideological and coercive state apparatuses.
Socio-political bloggers may act as activists in bringing forth their cases to the
public and providing citizens with multiple and different points of views that are often
censored by the mainstream media. However, due to the fragmentary nature of the
blogging content, ideologies tend to overlap and are not distinctive enough to hold fort
as a strong counter hegemony. Therefore, there is nothing concrete to persuade citizens
to subscribe to and hence, the State’s hegemony still reigns supreme.
The State’s biased actions and policies are exposed by socio-political bloggers,
especially seen when bloggers are unfairly detained under the Internal Security Act
(ISA). This angered the rest of the blogging community and results in a further
explosion of contentious blogging content, increasing the distrust of citizens towards the
government. However, a majority of the blog readers are uncritical and unskilled in
reading, especially of blogs that tend to stir up negative emotions and distort the facts.
Moreover, blogging allows for narrowcasting, making it easy for blog readers to avoid
blogs that oppose their own values and to seek for blogs that reinforce their perceptions.
The new intellectuals in the Malaysian blogosphere who possess refine technical
skills in writing and blog designing still need to go offline and partake in political
campaigning in order to reach to the non-blogging community. Nonetheless, most
bloggers see themselves as the powerless underdogs who have little following and their
blogs are seen as not serious. Furthermore, a majority believe that the potentially
successful new intellectuals are those bloggers who originally have some political
power and influence offline. These result in much reluctance for an average citizen to
start blogging, with the belief that no one will take notice of what they write.
Produsaging democracy within the Malaysian blogosphere is not about the
toppling of the ruling regime and bringing about radical societal transformations.
Instead, it is about changing the ways in which citizens deliberate and engage on socio-
political matters. As seen through the respondents themselves, contributions from these
produsers may go beyond geographical boundaries. Nevertheless, access is restricted to
the privileged few who can afford the technology and only those who are better
educated have a greater tendency to frequent socio-political blogs. There exist a digital
divide where the majority of the Malaysian population is still trapped within the rural
domain and are more concern about daily survival than being part of the blogosphere.
Even in the urban areas, there are relatively low Internet penetration and poor network
infrastructure. A more comprehensive study needs to be done on this rural and urban
divide and of how those in the rural states are able to be linked up to blogging.
The blogosphere is seen by most as just another avenue to disseminate what is
already available online. It by itself will not result in any social transformations and can
easily be replaced by better and more interactive platforms such as YouTube, Twitter
and Facebook. Studies on how other types of new media platforms which can become
politicized have yet to be done and it will be intriguing to see how each will affect or
leverage upon the other.
The increase in the blogging population does not necessarily equate to an
increase in freedom and empowerment for an average citizen. A majority of the blogs
available are of frivolous updates of mundane life, for socialization purposes and where
produsers are simply seeking for entertainment and not primarily for news on socio-
political blogs. Furthermore, many of the respondents feel that there is no need to adapt
to the Western formulations of democracy where there is complete liberty. Instead, they
believe that blogging needs to be done with some degree of responsibility and restraint.
There is also reluctance to blog on racial and religious matters as this may possibly lead
into trouble with the law enforcers. Hence, many will hesitate to blog as critically and
freely, contributing to a culture of apathy and self-censorship.
Gramsci may view produsaging democracy itself, as a multi-layered struggle
where the utopian ideal of advancing democracy via the online platform still needs to
take into consideration the specific values and cultural context of a certain country. In
this, it is not sufficient to simply focus on the Malaysian blogosphere, as citizens will
increasingly adopt other types of technological applications and not be dependent on
just one. Despite the relatively low levels of effectiveness of blogs in furthering
democracy as seen throughout this thesis, we can not discount the fact that their
presence still has the power to make the Malaysian government anxious.
A better explanation of this thesis needs to incorporate textual analysis of the
famous socio-political blogs so that the role of the everyday intellectuals in producing
counter hegemony can be more thoroughly explained. In addition, this thesis mainly
interviewed a segment of “Malaysians in diasporas”, with residents located outside
Malaysia and hence, for future research, more bloggers within Malaysia need to be
interviewed. However, this thesis does show a comprehensive attempt to address the
important issue on new media and the Southeast Asian politics, in the Malaysian
Being a non-Malaysian, I may have limited knowledge on Malaysian politics
and of how certain matters or events are perceived and practiced by Malaysians. I can
be said to be outside the realm of their “common sense” and be biased in my
interpretations, considering Malaysian bloggers to be the “Others” based on my own
value systems. However, this also puts me in a privileged position as I am not
embedded and normalized into their social and cultural values and hence, able to
analyze more aptly. Another limitation as mentioned earlier in Chapter 4, some of the
interview respondents are experts in their fields. Therefore, in writing this dissertation
and in the selection of my respondents, I may unwittingly have marginalized certain
voices in the Malaysian society. These I try to overcome through reflexivity, where I am
constantly made aware of as the prevailing issue of digital divide.
AN HONOURS THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL
FULFILMENT OF BACHELOR OF SOCIAL SCIENCE (HONOURS) DEGREE
Supervisor: Dr. Chung Peichi
COMMUNICATIONS AND NEW MEDIA PROGRAMME
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
[ACADEMIC YEAR 2008/2009]
I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.
Socrates, 470 B.C. to 399 B.C.
Shimmering THANK YOU to
Dr. Chung Peichi for her encouragement and sincere guidance.
The super duper interview respondents for their enlightenment and magical ideas:
Balan, Chin, Mei, Filzah, Alvin, Christine, Gabrielle, Jian, Ridhwan, Anuar, Shahril & Edwin.
Ibu and Ayah for coping with my unpredictable mood swings and their endless love.
Ehsan, the world’s greatest chicken peeler and Milo maker.
Sherly and Rian for great avenues of distraction.
Friends who patiently answered all my disturbing questions and amused me through late nights:
Robbie, Kei, Farhana, Fadzli, Safraz, Mark, Parvin, Fatma, Fiza, Naweera, Shafi, Justin &
My weary yet sexy laptop, Sakina Atelier Calisto.And all those who contributed in this thesis production.
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