Alternative Media Bridging the Digital Divide in Malaysia: Case Study of Sarawakreport.org

Alternative Media Bridging the Digital Divide in Malaysia: Case Study of Sarawakreport.org

Kevin Fernandez (Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK), Malaysia), Sivamurugan Pandian (Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Malaysia) and Mohamad Zaini Abu Bakar (Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Malaysia)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6066-3.ch010

Abstract

This chapter analyzes the burgeoning role of new media in the Malaysian political sphere. The chapter descriptively analyzes the role of Sarawakreport.org, a blog formed by the former Prime Minister of the UK's (Gordon Brown's) sister in-law, Clare Rewcastle Brown, in an endeavor to challenge the Chief Minister of Sarawak in his incumbency. The government used its economical, coercive, and political power to repress the symbolic power of the new media, which transgresses boundaries, space, and time. This chapter concludes that the BN (Barisan Nasional) won its two-thirds majority legitimizing its control over Sarawak, but its loss of popular votes suggests the symbolic power is of concern for the ruling regime and legitimizing its rule seems to be a serious problem.
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Introduction

The internet has been accredited as a political space across the globe. Nation states such as South Korea (Joyce, 2007), US (Lawrence et. al., 2010) and Britain (Aeron, 2009) has felt the presence of the Internet as a political force. Even in highly restrictive regimes such as Burma (Chowdhury, 2008), Russia (Lysenko, 2010) and Ukraine (Goldstein, 2007) the venom of the internet was felt. In most instances, the blogsphere was the most prominent feature of the internet and the mass mobilization people were inevitable.

While some contend that it is generally a misplaced judgment that the Web 2.0 is increasingly attracting the younger generation (Kisane, 2009), others have argued that while those interested in politics is increasingly engaging themselves, but those disfranchised previously are pulling away further (Aeron, 2009). There are several factors contributory to the polarization process, causative by the characteristics of the internet and the blogsphere.

These factors are due to the plethora of information available on the internet and consumers tend to gravitate to sites and issues that are of similar interest and beliefs as them, similarly blogs tend to provide links to other blogs that are of parallel to their inclinations (Himelboim, 2010). Lawrence et. al. (2010) compliments these findings by suggesting that political blogs tend to polarize readers and increase tendencies of mobilization efforts, especially left-wing bloggers.

As Zenko (2011) clearly states in his article for the Foreign Policy on the Future of War concluding interviews and surveys done on experts, he states that ‘the most dangerous [threat] continues to be the Internet which is as anarchic as it is democratic. Our vulnerabilities with respect to the Internet are almost as great as the advantages we derive from our internetconnectedness.’ Internet connectedness has been argued to play imperative role on increased polarization and influence on the ‘imagined community’ (Mate et. al. 2006). The author wishes to clarify that the ‘imagined community’ of nations via the internet is not a puerile area of study. In an attempt to redefine anthropological studies of blogs as e-ethnography, Varisco (2009) claims that there is no singular Muslim identity existent on the Internet. Muslim orientated blogs are precariously dependent on national resemblances and ethnic cleavages.

Fernandez (2010) in his study of the by-elections in Malaysia and the internet’s role ascertains that new media plays an important role in Malaysian contemporary political arena. Sarawakreport.org that was formed by Clare Rewcastle Brown would be used as analogy for the purpose of this study. This study would also attempt to analyze the outcomes of the Sarawak State elections held in April 16 2011, to provide explanation whether the Internet was successful in becoming a ‘political space’ for the displaced. While most of these studies tend to on the democratization possibilities of the blogosphere in particular, investigative journalism (Steele, 2008) others tend to focus on its collective identity and political mobilization capabilities. This study attempts to particularly analyze the democratization process of blogosphere where the rural and urban divide is wide and the democratization outcomes it produces with special reference to the ballots.

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