Friday, January 24, 2003

Keep to the script, baby.

BARELY a month has passed since Ling Liong Sik cried wolf a second time to resign. Thursday, Barisan Nasional Sec-Gen Tok Mat advised political leaders to do away with the ‘leave-it-to-the-president syndrome' and exit voluntarily when they realise they are unable to effect changes in their parties.

Reading in between the lines, is it part of the script for Austrian businessman Franz Christoph Heldwein to debut at this stage to lay claims of RM100 million on Ling Liong Sik, his son Hee Leong and businessman Soh Chee Wen? The Malay Mail scooped this story yesterday.

Conspicously, this news is totally blacked out in the print and online versions of The Star today. For media that did carry the story, none except The Sun and The Malay Mail front-paged this item, which apparently looks like a business deal aborted in 1997. The Sun tackled it from the angle that Ling, Dr M's Transport Minister for over 17 years, offered to procure Malaysian government's original survey maps to facilitate a private business deal involving navigational global positioning systems for black boxes to be used in commercial vehicles.

Ling, according to Heldwein's claim yesterday, represented that he would use his "connections and authority" to secure the original maps which nobody can obtain. However, Heldwein said he was advised that accepting the survey maps may violate the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act. This is high-octane information. Mark this space, folks.

But how did the love-hate relationships among Ling, his family and Soh developed to this stage? I recall January 14 Soh publicly called Ling a liar for denying their past business association, and he promised to refile a RM150 million suit - not related to Heldwein's - against Ling.

Last May 28, I attended a dinner talk organised by the National Press Club where Soh was the guest speaker. His topic was: 'Why I came home and my future plans'. Many journos and friends were there to listen, as it was his first public appearance after he returned May 14 from a three-year hiatus (He called it 'self-imposed exile'). Many expected him to spill some beans to spice up the 'curry fish-head' innuendos attributed to certain political figure. The crowd went home feeling bland, but there wasn't any after-taste either. Obviously, Soh has to keep tightly to the scripts, if you understand what I mean.

Soh's court case is currently on-going. For those who want to know more about the backgrounder to Soh, and the political and business intrigues surrounding him, you have three sources: One from The Star's Managing Editor II/Business Editor Wong Sulong, another is a two-parter by Malaysiakini, and the other is by MGG Pillai. But caution: You are left entirely on your own to discern the believability of these reports. They, too, may have certain scripts to follow.

As usual, DAP chief Lim Kit Siang was swift to capitalise on the political pyrotechnics provided by Soh's return. He asked the authority to investigate the seven-page police report allegedly lodged by Soh at Balai Polis Jalan Travers, Kuala Lumpur, and which was posted on the Internet on June 23, 1998. Unfortunately I can't locate this posting now. But it doesn't really matter, I believe the episodes will get enacted according to script after all.

The script unfolds, the plot thickens. Stay tuned.

* * *

PAK LAH may get promoted from PDPM to PPM after all. I mean, from the Probationary Deputy PM to Probationary PM by October.

Interviewed in Davos yesterday, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he won't withdraw completely from politics after his retirement. He said:

'I've sufficient standing in the party to be able to move around and meet party members without holding any position.'

* * *

TWO DAYS after being raided by Malaysian police over The Petrof Letter, online newspaper Malaysiakini was ordered to evict its office by end February by the landlord, PC Suria Sdn Bhd, a major hardware supplier to Malaysia's smart-schools project. Editor Steven Gan believed the authorities have put pressure on PC Suria, and Malaysiakini will fight the eviction.

Meanwhile, world responses to the police raid have intensified, and the groundswell of detests among local intellectuals is apparently brewing stronger. The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) are co-organising a public forum on the impact of the Sedition Act on press freedom today. Speakers are human rights and constitutional lawyer Raja Aziz Addruse, Dr Mohd Safar Hasim from Universiti Sains Malaysia’s media studies and communication, JUST executive committee member K Haridas and Steven Gan.

Protests and theatrics apart, what Malaysiakini really needs is the ability to survive during adversities like these. Those who have been reading Malaysiakini for free should become paid subscribers. Malaysiakini is probably Malaysia's only independent online newspaper that can thrive on grassroot support, not on handouts. Fellow scribe Oon Yeoh said it all in his weblog, Transition, and I quote:

"...If there's any time Malaysiakini needs your help (yes, YOU the readers), it's now... There are several ways you can help keep Malaysiakini alive. You can buy a subscription (it's only RM10 per month). Or, if you're slightly better off, you can actually become a sponsor. It's now or never folks. Let's keep independent journalism alive. Support Malaysiakini.

Let me point you there. Support Malaysiakini.

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Thursday, January 23, 2003

Whenever the PM is out of town...

YOU may have heard it at corporate cocktails or in the pubs, but the story basically goes like this. Whenever PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad is out of the country on official or private trips, his deputy is instantly put on probation. With the passing of history, we note that Dr M has been survived by three drop-out deputies for a kaleidoscope of reasons.

The PM is now in Davos, Switzerland, attending the annual World Economic Forum. The circumstances under which Pak Lah is being put to hold the fort is highly interesting. On the day the PM left for his trip, Pak Lah assured investors that the country’s major policies will continue even after the PM retires later this year. The versions going around the cocktails and pubs are that it was Pak Lah's personal Akujanji declared publicly. Political pundits say "Tanpa angin tak kan pohon bergoyang' (No smoke without fire).

More interestingly, Singapore could not have chosen a better time to test this probationary officer, Malaysia's PM-in-waiting. Wednesday, Singapore's Defence Minister (and deputy PM) Dr Tony Tan was quoted as saying that Malaysia would have to bear responsibility for any tense situation that arose and the increased risk of "unintended incidents" related to the Batu Putih dispute. Yesterday, Pak Lah asked Singapore to stop the threats. Defence Minister Najib Tun Abdul Razak, undecidedly Pak Lah's comrade and nemesis until Dr M exits, echoed in support.

* * *

Notorious computer hacker Kevin 'Condor' Mitnick has been allowed to use his PC after almost one decade. In 1995, he was captured and sent to jail for almost five years for computer crimes against companies including Sun Microsystems and Motorola. After the prison term, he was not allowed to access the computers and the Internet for another three and a half years. It is a long period of celibacy for any cyberwarrior.

Upon release, Kevin founded Defensive Thinking Inc., and his is now a felon-turned information security consultant. He authored 'The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security' which details how hackers obtain critical information. One of the first things he did after he was allowed to surf the Internet was to check out his girlfriend's weblog to "see if she says anything bad about me".

Kevin's girlfriend, Darci Wood, a former producer at Tech TV, blogged We Are Hackers yesterday in a tribute to him. She said:

"When the government couldn’t understand a hacker that hacked just for the sake of knowledge and not for personal gain - we all could."

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Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Big Brother still rules over Internet

INTERNET truly brings new meanings to the application of law and governance.

Law enforcers have rights - often times absolute - to uncover any confidentiality residing in firewalled servers. Big Brother still reigns in Digital Age. Here and abroad.

Tuesday, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Zainal Abidin Zin said the government's agreement to allow freedom of expression on the Internet was not a licence to say anything. He said it applies only if people behave.

Wednesday, U.S. District Judge (federal judge) John Bates ruled that Internet service providers (ISPs) must disclose the identify of any Internet subscriber who is suspected of illegally trading music or movies online. In the cited case, Verizon Communications was compelled to pinpoint a computer user who allegedly illegally downloaded 600 songs from the Internet in a single day. He has been almost anonymous, only his numerical Internet address was known.

Verizon promised to appeal and said it would not immediately disclose customer's identity. The case is considered a pivotal test of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which protects ISPs from prosecution for their subscribers' actions.

In Malaysia, the ISP industry is drafting a proposal to indemnify themselves as "innocent carriers" of online content, which is packetised and transported, technically, in bits and bytes, 0's and 1's.

Monday, Malaysian police seized 19 CPUs from Malaysiakini to carry out digital forensic investigation after the editor Steven Gan refused to disclose the identity of a reader who wrote The Petrof Letter.

IMPLICATIONS: Online journalists and online pirates alike now stand a higher risk of being napped under conventional and cyber laws combined. THE FEAR: The's no guarantee "Innocence before proven guilty" may apply at all times.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Going by the Law of Jungle, jungle is neutral

The police raid on Malaysiakini over The Petrof Letter still hogged my mind while I finished surfing the net last night.

Prof Hamdan Adnan saw the police action as a violation of press freedom. To support his argument, he pointed to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19, which provides the right to freedom of speech. He said Malaysia has ratified the declaration.

Good point, but I don't think his opinion reached many ears among Malaysians. Never mind if he spoke in his capacity as a Human Rights (SUHAKAM) commissioner. I just did not see any local media carrying his statement besides Malaysiakini.

Admittedly, there's nothing Hamdan said that's news, but it troubled me terribly under the present circumstances. He said Umno Youth could have just sued using Malaysian laws instead of abusing state power to clamp down Malaysiakini. That pricked my mind.

This morning, I was privileged enough to get an invitation to witness the launch of Mercedes-Benz New e-Class. It's also the first press conference by DaimlerChrysler Malaysia (DCM) since taking over the driver seat for the marketing of the German marque through a 51% majority share equity (the 49% partner is Cycle-Carriage Bintang).

DCM President and CEO Frank Steinleitner projected to sell 3,500 units of Mercedes-Benz cars in 2003. While anticipating market uncertainty from now till the full implementation of AFTA, he attributed his optimism based on Malaysian government's economy growth forecast at 6%.

I reckon if our economy engine were to stall and fall short of the forecast, be it due to political instability or withdrawal of foreign investments, eveybody will get sucked in by the turbulence. From the economics standpoint, foreigners don't have the time nor interest to understand and follow our nuances in politics. Neither do we have the capacity to thumb our nose on world trade and behave like North Korea. We don't need bad press at this point in time.

Putting the two random thoughts together, I feel the political players can invoke the law of the jungle if they please, but do respect that the jungle is neutral for most of us.

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Monday, January 20, 2003

The Petrof Letter:
A catalyst for media to thrive sans barrier?

Thank you Oon Yeoh and See Ming for your calls to alert me about the police raid on Malaysiakini yesterday.

I last blogged on Malaysiakini Saturday, touching on the contentious letter Petrof wrote to its Editor, and awaiting the outcome of police action with bated breath. On hindsight, I sensed Deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung's statement might have disarmed Malaysiakini staffers' vigilance a little. It could be a false calm before the storm, much like what happened to The Sun last year. But it was just a wild thought that came and flashed away, very insignificant thought that didn't stay in me.

Monday afternoon, just as Malaysian Police's Cyber Crime Division and Forensic Unit carted away 19 CPUs from Malaysiakini's newsroom, editor Steven Gan went on live interview on CNN 7.30pm news, anchored by a newscater based in Hong Kong. And at almost the same time, the online news went up on CNN Asia website, this time dispatched from London.

The world has shrunk to within three hours; geographical distance and all spatial dimensions are now but irrelevant to the real-time dissemination of information. Frankly, my father wouldn't have believed it, but my generation has arrived - The generation of Knowledge-on-tap.

While the police raid was going on, and Oon Yeoh - through his weblog, Transition - were among the first in Malaysia to break the news, and Uncle Yap's mailing list BeritaMalaysia started to flow with similar postings soon after. Meanwhile, Google News continues to spin up more dispatches around the world by the minutes. Malaysiakini enjoys another round of prime-time global publicity. It would have cost millions of ringgit if it has gone to an accredited advertising agency.

Pix: About 200 Malaysiakini supporters turned up at the candle-light vigil Monday night.

Today, Press Freedom is again put to test. According to BBC News Online, the police asked Malaysiakini to reveal the author of the offending letter, and when the journalists refused to reveal the source, the police said they would take the office's computers. Steven said the police were told that only one of the computers was capable of updating Letters to Editor, but "they insisted on taking the whole lot" (including servers used to update and manage editorial content), effectively crippling Malaysiakini's operation.

In a Press Release, Steven described the action as an excuse to shut down Malaysiakini and not to investigate the UMNO Youth allegation, "The government's pledge not to censor the Internet has been shot to pieces," he said, but promised to resume online publication within 24 hours.

In the end, the relief updating server went live in less than three! To be precise, the first story went up at 9.40pm, Monday.

A point to note. Steven Gan has been summoned to record a police statement at 11am Tuesday. "We will stand by our journalistic principles. 'We will not reveal the writer's identity." Steven was quoted by Straits Times Singapore.

Momentarily, I recalled the door gift Malaysiakini gave away during its first anniversary fund-raising dinner. It was a mug that says: "The pen is mightier than the sword. But Internet rules". I reckon someone has created a monster in the age of Internet, and he has to continue feeding it for a long while to come.

By 'monster', I'm not talking about Steven being the creator nor the creation. Go figure!

UPDATE: Dan Gillmor, alerted by a Malaysian journalist, has blogged it from Silicon Valley: Malaysia's Broken Internet Promise. He last visited Malaysiakini in KL 15 months ago.

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Sunday, January 19, 2003

What do 55 billion Google searches tell about Netizens?

It’s mind-boggling to visualise how penetrative - and domineering - Google has become. In 2002, there were more than 55 billion searches conducted over its entire network! With such a humongous traffic, it provides a valuable cache of queries netizens make in their quest for information.

Google's 2002 Year-End Zeitgeist (a German word with meanings of “time” and “spirit” combined) analyses last year's major events and hottest trends based on global search statistics gathered from around the world in various languages. In a way, the netizens’ mindscape can be seen through the collective eyes of the world aggregated by the Internet.

This is what I found out.

INSIGHT #1: America is the centre of the Internet universe. Of the 55 billion searches conducted on Google, the topics are dominantly US-centric. The US psyche has recovered from the aftermaths of September 11 terrorist attacks and fading technologies. The Top 10 Declining Queries, in hierarchical order, include Nostradamus, Napster, World Trade centre, anthrax, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, (video game) All Your Bases Are Belong To Us, CNN, FBI, and Angelina Jolie. Netizens have since moved on to enjoy life, and care less about the woes of the world. Top 10 Gaining Queries are dominated by searches on lifestyle choices and entertainment, from movies (Spiderman) to singers (Shakira, Eminem) to sports (Winter Olympics and World Cup), and video games.

INSIGHT #2: English is the official language of the Internet. Other languages trailing far behind are German, Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese and Italian.

INSIGHT #3: Bill Gates is Demigod of desktop computing. The Top Five Operating Systems used by Google searchers are all Microsoft products, which capture a total of 92% market shares. Here’s how they stack up: Windows98 (38%), WindowsXP (25%), Windows2000 (21%), WindowsNT (5%) and Windows95 (3%). In comparison, Mac OS captures 4%, Linux 1% and Others 3%.

INSIGHT #4: Bill Gates is Demigod of Internet browsing. Microsoft IE (Versions 4.0, 5.0, 5.5 and 6.0) dominates absolutely the browser segment, with miniscule portion using Netscape and Others.

INSIGHT #5: Solutions for personal computing command the biggest mindshare. The Top Technology Searches rake in MP3, SMS, Winzip, Linux, FTP, Dell, xBox, Realplayer, Microsoft and Java.

INSIGHT #6: Branding is also king in Cyberspace. The Top Brands most frequently queried by Google users are Ferrari, Sony, Nokia, Disney, Ikea, Dell, Ryanair, Microsoft, Porsche and HP. Interestingly, Google users from Germany have collectively advocated a different package of Top Brands: BMW, Ferrari, Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche, Mercedes, Ford, Peugeot, Renault and Honda. Not many Asian brands make it here.

INSIGHT #7: The Westerners have less preference for Asian destinations in 2002. The Top Destinations queried among the 55 billion Google searches are: Paris, Canada, New York, India, Los Angeles, Australia, Hawaii, Japan, Cuba and London.

There is a strongest trendline among European netizens enquiring on budget air travels. Germany shows preference for Ryanair and, while UK shows high traffic for EasyJet and Ryanair. Indeed, Ryanair, which operates budget flights between England and European cities, occupies the 7th spot among the overall Top Brands returned by the 55 billion searches.

Tony Fernandez of AirAsia, please listen up!

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