Wall Street Journal
By ABHRAJIT GANGOPADHYAY
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—The founder of a new radio program aimed at airing voices challenging Malaysia’s ruling party blamed a cyberattack for disrupting her debut show.
The two-hour program, called Radio Free Malaysia, aired Monday on traditional radio airwaves and through Internet audio streaming. But the first hour of the Internet streaming audio couldn’t be heard because of a “denial-of-service” attack, in which an overwhelming number of communication requests forced the site to be shut down, said founder Clare Rewcastle Brown, a former BBC journalist. The radio distribution of the program went smoothly.
“These were well-coordinated attacks aimed at silencing us,” said Ms. Brown, who is based in London.
She accused supporters of Malaysia’s ruling coalition—the National Front—of being behind the disruption of her program.
She hosts a blog—the Sarawak Report—in Malaysia as well. It faced a similar cyberattack last week, she said. She believes that attack was sparked by National Front supporters upset by a antigovernment video posted elsewhere.
She said she hasn’t sought investigations into the incidents. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which regulates local media, declined to comment.
Ms. Brown launched her daily Radio Free Malaysia in the run-up to Malaysia’s general election, which must held by the end of June and is expected to be the most competitive in its history. James Chin, a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies doubts Radio Free Malaysia will affect the race. “A lot will depend on how many will actually tune in,” he said.
The National Front coalition, which has been in power since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957, is frequently accused of heavy-handedness in its dealing with the few independent newspapers and TV stations in the Southeast Asian country.
Government-run or backed media outlets pump out the government’s positions while targeting opposition politicians, leaving little room for voices of dissent, critics say. Malaysia was ranked the 145th worst country on press freedom of 179 countries studied by Reporters Without Borders.
“There is a crisis of confidence definitely with print and certainly with TV,” said Masjaliza Hamzah, chief executive at the Center for Independent Journalism, a media advocacy group based in Kuala Lumpur.
Ms. Brown’s first show featured Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and Pan-Malaysian Islamist party’s leader Dzulkefly Ahmad.
“We will also be knocking on the doors of the National Front politicians to have them on the program,” Ms. Brown said.
Ms. Brown—who is married to Andrew Brown, the younger brother of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown—said her London base will keep her beyond the reach of Malaysian broadcast rules, which in turn will help her in getting out the views of opposing politicians and others.
Under current regulation, local radio channels are required to inform the information and broadcasting regulator of interviews in advance. Often the regulator bars broadcasting such interviews with political opposition members.
Malaysia’s constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression, but imposes limits. Violations can be punished by several years in prison.
Malaysia’s current prime minister, British-educated Najib Razak, has initiated reforms to loosen up rules on the news media and the tightly controlled political system as he pitches himself as a moderate keen for a more open society. Last year, he got rid of laws that required annual licensing of print publications. “Definitely what he has done so far has not yet transformed media and how Malaysians want news,” said Ms. Masjaliza, the media advocate.
Ms. Brown earlier launched a radio program called Radio Free Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. She was born in Sarawak, and the program focuses on environmental challenges faced by indigenous people there due to rapid deforestation.
Radio is popular in Malaysia. Malaysians topped the radio listener list in the Asian-Pacific region, tuning in for an average of 21 hours and 34 minutes a week in 2011, according to a survey by market researcher Nielson.
“My target audience is the rural people, who need an alternative medium to know what’s happening,” Ms. Brown said.