Malaysia said Friday it may encourage parents to use Internet filters to block pornography and online scams, but vehemently denied it was reneging on its promise not to censor the Web.
"The government has no desire to implement Internet filtering," Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters. "Firstly, because it is not effective. Secondly, it may cause dissatisfaction among the people because in this ICT (information and communications technology) and borderless age, information moves around freely."
"There is no change in government policy," he said, referring to the government's 1996 pledge to keep the Internet uncensored.
Najib's statement was aimed at allaying fears among human rights and opposition groups that the government was planning to introduce an Internet filter, similar to China's recently postponed "Green Dam" software, that may be used to block dissent on blogs and independent news Web sites.
Such online journals are known to offer strong anti-government commentaries and present themselves as a substitute for mainstream media, which are largely controlled by political parties.
Web sites have played a key role in eroding support for the ruling coalition, particularly before its worst-ever performance in general elections last year.
Fears of censorship were raised by an article this week in Malaysian Insider, an independent news Web site, which said the Information Ministry was soliciting bids to help evaluate the feasibility of a Green Dam-like filtering software. It said a study on the proposed filter would be completed by December.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said in a statement Friday that news about the study had been "taken out of context and sensationalized."
The study was only meant to better understand online preferences of Malaysians, which is "no different from actions taken by responsible regulatory agencies and governments ... around the world," the statement said.
The study would help develop suitable strategies to reduce incidence of pornography and online fraud such as phishing, identity theft and spam, it said. It is possible that such strategies may include "encouraging parents to filter the Internet at home using Internet filtering technology or for ISPs to make available such tools for users to download," it said.
Earlier Friday, Information Minister Rais Yatim said the government was only concerned with pornography and protecting children from sexual predators.
"We will not allow the safety of our children to be compromised. We will find all means to ensure Malaysia is free from the culture of pornography," he told reporters.
Associated Press writers Julia Zappei and Eileen Ng contributed to this report.