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The Internet and the Narrow Tailoring Dilemma for “Asian” Democracies

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The Internet has become a medium for contentious political journalism in Malaysia and Singapore, two countries known for their enthusiastic adoption of information technologies as well as their illiberal controls on political expression. These alternative sites inhabit a regulatory gap within an otherwise closed media system. Internet laws in these two settings provide a degree of freedom that is significantly greater than experienced in print and broadcast media. This article tries to explain this anomaly. It argues that the Internet’s perceived economic value dominated the authorities’ policy formulation, subordinating the goal of political control that historically shaped media policy. When dealing with print and broadcast media, the authorities had been able to tailor their political interventions narrowly, such that these actions did not smother their economic priorities. In contrast, the Internet was not as amenable to narrow tailoring. The two governments decided to tolerate a lesser degree of political control than that to which they were accustomed. While the governments maintained the prerogative to mete out after-the-fact punishments against any offending Internet publication, they were less capable of imposing prior restraints or encouraging self-censorship-their more routine forms of media control. It is not argued that the resulting advantage for radical journalism was either absolute or permanent, only that it presented a sufficiently attractive opportunity for action.

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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Asia Research Institute National University of Singapore

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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