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Malaysia denies censoring BBC on prime minister

16 January 2014, 11:21

Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia's Internet regulator on Thursday denied accusations that it was blocking access to a BBC report about netizens in the Muslim-majority nation lampooning the country's prime minister.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration faces public discontent over hikes in government-controlled fuel and power prices.

He responded to the criticism in a weekend speech in which he highlighted a drop in the price of water spinach, a common dish in Malaysian cuisine known locally as "kangkung".

Malaysians soon began mocking the aristocratic Najib - who recently came under fire for traveling with his wife on luxurious private jets at taxpayer's expense - as being out of touch with common citizens.

Critics posted thousands of tweets and a Facebook page simply titled "Kangkung" that pokes fun at Najib has garnered 18 000 likes, while local media said "Keep Calm and Eat Kangkung" t-shirts have gone on sale.

British broadcaster the BBC picked up the story in a report on its website on Tuesday, but many Malaysian Web-users began to complain that they could not access it about 24 hours later, sparking accusations that it was being blocked by authorities.

A spokesperson for the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) told AFP it had not blocked the page, but said various Malaysian service providers could have acted of their own accord.

The problem appeared to mainly affect those using government-controlled Telekom Malaysia's (TM) Internet service.

A TM spokesperson said the company was "checking with our network team" on the issue.

Malaysia's now-57-year-old ruling coalition pledged in the 1980s that it would never censor the Internet, in a bid to lure high-tech foreign investment.

Najib led the coalition to its worst election showing in its history last year as support has slid amid public fatigue over corruption, divisive racial politics and a sense of drift.

Government subsidies have helped keep prices of basic goods low for years. But Najib late last year announced plans to reduce subsidies in a bid to corral spiralling public debt.



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