The increasing use of social media has led the Malaysian government to review its censorship policy.
It has also embarked on a new public relations exercise to engage voters, ahead of general elections widely expected early next year.
It began with the July 9 Bersih rally.
Thousands of Malaysians took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur, demanding free and fair elections. Nearly 1,700 were arrested and scores were injured, as riot police fired tear gas and water canons to disperse the crowd.
The perceived mishandling by authorities dented the government’s image.
Home minister Hishammuddin Hussein insisted that the police were provoked, and a special commission was formed to investigate alleged misreporting by international media.
The government has also resorted to blotting out each and every copy of the mid-July issue of the Economist, which carried an article about the rally.
Instead of censoring the news, the act of censorship itself became an international headline, further jeopardizing the country’s international standing.
Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s department, Malaysia said: “I must say we were quite embarrassed with what happened. That’s why I think the PM decided we must stop this.”
The government subsequently reviewed its censorship policy.
On September 16, Malaysia Day, Prime Minister Najib announced wide-ranging reforms that included changing the security and media laws.
His image immediately received a boost.
But critics from the mainstream media said an image makeover isn’t a long-term solution.
Until then, social media will continue to be a popular alternative for many Malaysians.