The University Kebangsaan Malaysia head of Communication Department Prof Dr. Mohd Safar Hasim has done his university, the nation and the Internet a great disservice in trying to fan hysteria instead of national discussion about the information superhighway.

By Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP, Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Friday, September 22, 1995:

The University Kebangsaan Malaysia head of Communication Department Prof Dr. Mohd Safar Hasim has done his university, the nation and the Internet a great disservice in trying to fan hysteria instead of national discussion about the information superhighway.

The University Kebangsaan Malalysia head of Communication Department Prof Dr. Mohd Safar Hasim has done his university, the nation and the Internet a great disservice in trying to fan hysteria instead of rational discussion about the information superhighway.

The newspaper today carried a Bernama report about his paper at the seminar on “Ridding the Internet of Obscene Elements”, where he said that more than 83.5 percent of the images on the Internet’s Usenet network were filled with obscene materials which he said was a cause for worry.

This is a most irresponsible statement although he was merely quoting a study by Marty Rimm, an Amercian undergraduate of the Catnegie-Mellon University in the United states, which was given cover treatment in the 3rd July issue of the Time magazine under the heading: “Cyberporn”.

As head of the Communication Department of the UKM, Dr. Safar would have known that Rimm’s study had been discredited and that Time magazine subsequently reported that Rimm had serious credibility problems and that Rimm had a history of dishonest studies and findings.

Without being an expert on Communications, but just as a lay Internet user, Dr. Safar would have known that the statement that “more than 83.5 percent of the images of the Internet’s Usenet network are filled with obscene materials” is utter nonsense.

If Dr. Safar aggress with Rimm’s study, then the Internet must be awash with abscenity. I have been on the net for close to 100 hours, and I have not come across any obscene or pornographic material:

I am not suggesting that there is no pornography on the Internet of that pornographic materials are not accessible on the Internet, but it is very different thing altogether to create hysteria and panic among 19 million Malaysians – as there are now only 7,500 subscribers on line to the Internet through Jaring – with the horrifying image that “83.5 percent of the Internet are obscene and pornographic”!

I agree that the problem of pornography on the Internet must be addressed seriously, but it is the height of irresponsibility for an academician eho is head of the Communications Department of one of the local universities to resort to sensationalism and falsehoods about pornography on the Internet as to create hysteria and unthinking opposition to the Information superhighway in the country.

Dr. Safar must have read the subsequent issues of Time magazine about the misleading or meaningless statistics given by Rimm, as the study’s frequently cited claim that 83.5% of the images stored on the Usenet news groups are pornographic – and that a more telling statistic is that pornographic files represent less than one-half of one percent of all messages posted on the Internet.

As head of communications, Dr. Safar should have known that rimm made at least three serious definitional mistakes:

Firstly, in equating newsgroup with all of UNSENET, when there are about 50 newsgroups out of a total of about 10,000 USENET newsgroups;

Secondly, in equating USENET with all of the Internet. UNSENET newsgroups are quite popular on the Internet, but FTP and the World Wide Web (WWW) each probably carry more traffic over the Internet than does USENET and both FTP and WWW carry many pictures, many of them scientific, advertising, iconic or for other purposes; and

Thirdly, Rimm included dialup BBses in the definition of the Internet. Evidently many of the images collected in the Rimm study were collected from adult bulletin boards – the people who take the trouble to dial a specific telephone number to procure specific information are doing something difference different from accessing the Internet.

It is most unacademic, unprofessional and even un-Malaysian for the head of the communications department of a local university to rely on an American undergraduate study – especially one which had been thoroughly discredited for his paper!

Of course, the happiest man in Malaysia with Dr. Safar’s paper is none other than the Minister for Information, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat, who had become the butt of criticisms and jokes in Malaysia generally and on the Internet in particular because of his most ill-advised and uninformed comments.

Although Dr. Safar may be of service to Mohamad Rahmat, he is definitely doing a great disservice to his university, the nation and Internet.

Pornography exists and is transmitted through many media, including cable television, books and magazines video tapes, the postal mail, computer networks, interactive media like CD ROM, fax and telephone. The way to deal with them is through facts and informed opinion and not hysteria.

As one of the few academic communications experts, Dr. Safar should have played an important role to educate Malaysians about now to use the information superhighway and inform them about its potential for social and economic development as well as its abuses – and not to create hysteria against the Internet.

The world is undergoing an information revolution where electronic information links are transforming how we live, learn, work and play. The question is whether Malaysia is to be at the margin of this transformation or at its very centre.

Dr. Safar should be in the forefront to help promote the development of the information superhighway in Malaysia:

As a cost-effective way to increase quality of service and efficiency to every Malaysian:

To raise the general technological expertise and receptivity of Malaysians to new approaches;

To lead to the broadest possible accessibility to information and training; and

To create new kinds of economic opportunity.

Chinese mass media trailing behind English and Bahasa Malaysia mass media in understanding the concept and importance of Internet and information superhighway regarding them as akin to science fiction

Malaysia’s biggest bottleneck delaying her from making full use of the information revolution is that although we have communications experts in the era of physical highways, we do not have enough Malaysians who are communications experts who could understand and exploit the potentials of the information superhighway.

A recent regional survey showed that Malaysia is at the bottom of the list of nations in Asia on computer-literacy among the corporate elite and professionals. In Malaysia, many use computers as an upgraded typewriter.

Although mass media is in the centre of information technology, there are many journalists, including senior ones, who have no concept of the Internet, let alone its importance.This allpies to newspapers with IT sections, which are regarded as very junior and marginal departments as compared to the ordinary newsfare or other editorial matters.

In this connection, the Chinese mass media are even trailing behind the English and Bahase Malaysia mass media in understanding and realizing the importance of Internet and the information superhighway and regard reports or statements on these subjects akin to science fiction.

Unless communication workers in Malaysia could first understand the concept and importance of the internet and the information superhighway, how could Malaysians as a whole be educated to develop, participate and make full use of an information superhighway in Malaysia?