“I have never supported the idea of censorship, because censorship will have some basis – like excessive pornography, blasphemy and inciting racial or religious riots, but once you go along that path, we will have be enough political leaders to extend that argument,” Anwar bin Ibrahim, Leader of the opposition and former deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia said at the India Today Conclave on Friday, in response to MediaNama’s question on the the face off between democratically elected governments and the Internet. “I say this because you have exported this horrible draconian law, the Internal Security Act, which we adopted in 1960 against militant communists, only to be used against people like me, all in the name of public order and security. So it is always a danger and we will have to draw the line here between need to have order and excesses by the political masses.”

Ibrahim emphasised on free expression and said greatness lies in total commitment to free expression. “When accusations are thrown at us, we do not have to opportunity to counter because of the absence, or lack, of free media. You have a free media (in India) and I think political leaders do not really like that…What happens in India, its ramifications are far greater than what you envisage,” he said, adding in jest, “I agreed to speak at the India Today Conclave for some air time on TV.” This is where the Internet becomes important: he pointed towards the growth of the Internet in Malaysia in 1998, when he was in prison, when in the absence of free media, Malaysia reported the highest growth of Internet users in the world, thus proving that people do opt for an alternate free media. The limitation, though, is that the extent of Internet penetration does not go beyond urban settlement areas and particularly in the rural heartland, who depend solely on government controlled media.

He felt that the Arab Spring has proven a point (about the role of the Internet), but he believes that its role was exaggerated: “It is true that social networks did play and continue to play a major role, but some of the traditional institutions, like the moss committee and the village panchayat do have some influence, and they should not be underestimated.”

Democracy works if institution is strong: Anwar bin Ibrahim
Q&A with Anwar Ibrahim