Pay up or what, Indonesia?

UPDATE: LINE, BBM on Board for In-Country Office Plans, The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia’s Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara said that during a recent visit to Silicon Valley, President Joko Widodo (or “Jokowi” for short)  called on giant tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix to open their branch offices in Indonesia.


(Photo credit: GovInsider.Asia)

The purpose, as outlined by Indonesian finance minister Bambang Brodjonegoro, is so that they will be required to pay local taxes. In addition, they will have to obtain “permanent establishment” status, which can be in the form of either establishing a representative office or a full-fledged company. The Communication Ministry estimated that, in 2015, digital advertising from Indonesia was worth about $800 million

Aside from taxes, Communications Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu also told Reuters that the government is interested in regulating content related to terrorism and pornography, which I am sure they hope would be easier to do if these companies have representatives/offices in Indonesia. It is worrying given the lack of transparency and accountability in Indonesia’s content control processes.

In 2014, I wrote an op-ed in The Jakarta Post on government regulations that stifle freedom of expression online, and co-authored a report about the government’s decision to block Vimeo, a video-sharing website.

Earlier this month, a commission at the Indonesian House of Representatives recommended that the Communications Ministry ban websites which “promote and propagandize LGBT content” and to issue regulations to restrict content on that topic. In February,  the Ministry also instructed over-the-top (OTT) providers like LINE and WhatsApp to remove lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) related emoticons and stickers from the local market, with the reasoning that they “need to respect local culture and values.”

A legal decree mandating tech giants to set up shop in Indonesia is expected to be issued at the end of March, and to be implemented in April. The government said that it will block services that do not comply, or reduce their bandwidth.

Rudiantara, however, is not very optimistic, and has said that the companies were “unlikely to respond the call.”


What’s goin’ on in Malaysia

UPDATE: The Malaysian Insider to shut down, Borneo Post Online


(Photo credit: Malaysia Chronicle)

You know things are bad when even opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is willing to support his “arch nemesis” aka former PM Mahathir Mohamad in demanding current PM Najib Razak to resign. Razak is currently battling corruption allegations in the state fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).


(Photo credit: I Am Politikus)

Read the WSJ’s special coverage on the issue.

In protest, the former prime minister has even quit the party, the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). (And I thought I would never see the day.)

On the cyber side of things, the government has also blocked online news portal, The Malaysian Insider, after it published a story on 1MDB. The official explanation: “National security,” of course. Not the government’s first rodeo in censoring the Internet, however. It has also previously blocked access to The Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel, and Medium after they published similarly controversial articles. The United States has criticized Malaysia for restricting press freedom, but it’s not like that did anything (Malaysia defended its decision).

Furthermore, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said that it has “blocked 52 new media websites and investigated 14 social media abuse cases since the setting up of the Special Committee to Combat Abuse of Social Media in January.” I wonder how does this Special Committee work? Most likely not transparent or accountable to the people.

In a sad attempt to show support for embattled PM Razak, the Twitter hashtag #RespectMyPM was created, and it totally backfired. (Did they really not see this coming?)