16 January 2014
A BBC Trending article about the lampooning of Malaysia’s prime minister on social media was blocked in Malaysia for several hours on Wednesday and Thursday. The blog post – which had the headline “Be careful what you say about spinach” – explained how remarks by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak about the price of kangkung, or water spinach, had caused a huge social media reaction. Readers in Malaysia began to report problems accessing the story at about 16:00 GMT on Wednesday, with tweets to the @BBCTrending Twitter account.
“Can’t believe @BBCtrending’s kangkung article is blocked. Not only don’t we have freedom of speech we don’t even have rights to information,” tweeted @rueying. There were dozens of responses to a tweet we later sent out via @BBCWorld and on #BBCtrending asking Malaysians if they could access the article – with many complaining it was blocked. Problems seemed to be experienced largely by users of Telekom Malaysia’s TMnet internet service provider. The block appears to have been lifted at about 04:00 GMT on Thursday – though some people were still reporting problems accessing it.
Tests run by the Sinar Project – an NGO which works on internet freedom in Malaysia – suggested a filter was in place blocking that specific article. The rest of the BBC News website was unaffected – and most were able to access the story via their mobile phones or the main BBC Trending index. Khairil Yusof, co-founder of the group, said there were reasons “to be suspicious”, and that a similar pattern of filtering was used during the general elections last year.
Freelance IT solutions provider, @sniiffit also told the BBC he was “almost 99%” sure this was a case of filtering. But both say that the page could have been blocked by an individual employee at TMnet – and not necessary a senior figure. Telekom Malaysia have not responded to our request for a comment – but a spokesman told the Malay Mail they are investigating and plan to issue a statement. Malaysia’s main media regulatory body acknowledged the issue but said they had not blocked the story or asked internet service providers to do so.
Sheikh Raffie Abdul Rahman of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said: “We understand that there could have been some temporary difficulties in accessing it, but at the time of this statement this disruption has been resolved.” The story was one of the most shared on the BBC News website on Wednesday.