MCMC had no authority to block Steam, say legal experts

Bede Hong

Malaysian Bar constitutional law committee co-chairman Surendra Ananth says MCMC has no authority to block online content. – The Malaysian Insight pic, September 9, 2017.

THE Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had no legal authority to block online gaming store Steam, lawyers said.

Yesterday, MCMC blocked Steam, the world’s largest online gaming store, for selling the game Fight with Gods, which the commission deemed offensive to religious sensitivities.

Access to the online store was restored today after the store withdrew the game from its shelves. Steam has two million users in Malaysia, with hundreds complaining at the MCMC Facebook page within hours of the ban. 

Malaysian Bar constitutional law committee co-chairman Surendra Ananth said MCMC had “no power” to block online content.

“Any state authority must have a legislative basis to exercise its power,” Surendra said, adding that the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) did not have a provision that allowed the MCMC to block online content. 

“Some have argued that Section 263(2) allows the MCMC to block content. However, that section only states that licensees shall assist the MCMC as far as reasonably necessary in preventing the commission or attempted commission of an offence,” he said. 

“It cannot be read in a manner to empower MCMC to block online content. This would be a violation of Section 3(3), which expressly provides: ‘Nothing in this act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the internet.’,” Surendra said. 

Surendra said MCMC was not in a position to deem online material offensive or insulting, saying the use of Section 233(1) was unconstitutional.

“It is a disproportionate fetter on the freedom of expression. It is inherently contradictory for a constitutional democracy to criminalise the hurling of insults,” he said. 

Eric Paulsen, executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, said the MCMC has been breaking the law for years. 

“Authorities like the MCMC can do almost anything they want unless they are challenged.

“They have been blocking various websites like Sarawak Report and The Malaysian Insider. That doesn’t mean they’re acting legally,” he said.

Under the CMA, the MCMC was never granted specific powers to block websites, Paulsen said. 

“But they do it anyway, on a whim, without justification, totally at their own discretion. This is of course highly arbitrarily and undemocratic.           

“Such behaviour is a grave abuse of power and in breach of the ‘no-internet-censorship’ policy, which is protected in both the CMA and MSC Malaysia’s Bill of Guarantees.                        

“The authorities must be reminded that they cannot police everything, cannot keep treating adult Malaysians like little kids.

“It would be more prudent for them to come to terms with the reality of the internet and the real world rather than resort to harsh enforcement methods that are inconsistent with modern democratic demands, and consequently making Malaysia a laughingstock, like the recent ban on ‘Despacito’,” he said.

In July, the government barred the record-smashing Spanish-language song “Despacito” from playing on state broadcasters, saying the lyrics, which is in Spanish, was indecent. 

Meanwhile, DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang called the government’s block of Steam “clumsy and Luddite.”

“Minister for Multimedia and Communications Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak has caused greater global embarrassment to Malaysia than all the five prime ministers put together in 60 years,” he said in a speech during a meet-the-people session in Malim, Malacca last night. 
“In this period of blockade of Steam, Malaysia came under the radar of consciousness of hundreds of millions of youth in the world, who otherwise would never have thought of Malaysia, but unfortunately in the most embarrassing and worst possible light.

“(The ban) reinforced the impression that Malaysia is very intolerant and has a closed mentality, totally contradictory to an open, inclusive and tolerant approach,” he said.  – September 9, 2017.

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