Malaysian media editors agree to pursue the formation of a Press Ombudsperson

On February 6, 2018, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-IFRA)’s Media Freedom Committee Malaysia (MFC Malaysia) organised a closed-door Roundtable for Malaysian media editors in Kuala Lumpur.

This is the second such roundtable that was organised by MFC Malaysia, with the first roundtable, which was also first-of-its-kind in Malaysia, being held on August 1, 2017.

While the first roundtable gave a platform for decision-makers in the Malaysian media landscape to discuss common challenges facing the press in Malaysia, the second roundtable specifically discussed the possibility of setting up a Press Ombudsperson in Malaysia.

One of the main goals of the MFC Malaysia committee, which comprises of nine experienced Malaysian journalists and editors, is to start a conversation about the formation of an independent, self-regulating press council in the country.

While we recognise that a conversation about the formation of a press council is a long process that will take time, we are of the opinion that a body representing the press in Malaysia that would act is a mediator between the government and the media is essential; as the government continues to periodically use criminal laws in taking action against industry players.

As such, the idea of a Press Ombudsperson, that could also help set certain common standards for the industry, was discussed during the roundtable by some 15 editors from different media mediums and languages.

Following the discussion, an overwhelming majority of the editors agreed on the need to have a Press Ombudsperson in Malaysia.

MFC Malaysia recognises that this only the beginning of a series of conversations that has to include many other media houses and editors who were unable to join the discussion.

Following the encouragement given by the media editors at the meeting, the MFC will now form a sub-committee on the formation of a Press Ombudsperson in Malaysia.

This committee will attempt to include the larger media fraternity in this conversation regarding a Press Ombudsperson in Malaysia, and will also come up with several alternative frameworks as to how an Ombudsperson structure can be set up in Malaysia.

For more information, please contact Ram Anand at 016-5289589

Issued by,

Wan-IFRA Media Freedom Committee (Malaysia)

Time to adopt standards and policies to protect female journalists in all work environment

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJM) is deeply troubled by the accounts of several female journalists in Southeast Asia, especially from Malaysia, regarding sexual harassment and unsolicited sexual advances made on them by politicians and elected representatives, as reported in the Asian Correspondent.:

Female journalists, male politicians and the epidemic of sexual harassment in Asean

Female journalists in the region have thrived for decades, making names for themselves despite facing a sometimes patriarchal working environment in these developing economies.

The detailed account of some of their experiences with politicians must awaken the senses of all media stakeholders in the region. Policies and standards must be put into place to address this issue if we are to see better journalism in our respective countries.

The IoJ commends those female journalists who had the strength to come out and speak against the sexual harassment they endured.

The report cites an incident where a newsroom encouraged a journalist to “capitalise” on the attention given by a politician when she had reported the matter.

We call for a halt to such practices and urge all Malaysian media houses to come up with a strong conduct policy that would protect female journalists in both the office and in the field.

Given that journalists find themselves out of the office a lot, their respective companies must adopt strong complaint mechanisms to make sure that action is taken should they face any sexual harassment, be it from politicians or public figures.

Having such strong standards and policies will not only protect female journalists, but would also be useful in stopping those that harass journalists in other ways, including blackmail or bribery.

As we look to developing a stronger media fraternity in Malaysia, politicians must be held accountable for their behaviour and attitudes towards journalists.

It is especially imperative that editors in Malaysian newsrooms and industry leaders refrain from bowing to politicians and allowing them to get away with uncivilised behaviour.

We urge a strong reaction from fellow journalists to protect our female colleagues, and demand for strong in-house measures to be put into place before harassers can be called out and identified for their actions.

Institute of Journalists Malaysia,
January 17, 2018

MCMC must explain grounds for probe against The Malaysian Insight

We, the undersigned organisations representing journalists in Malaysia, are troubled by the announcement that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is investigating news portal The Malaysian Insight for alleged “insults” against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The claims of “insult” against the PM, which has been repeated over the past two days during the general assembly of Umno, the largest ruling party in the country, has not been backed up by any examples or any proof whatsoever .

It is concerning that a government agency should be so quick to announce a probe against a news agency based on complaints that have not been backed by any proof of intent to “insult” the Prime Minister, as alleged.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak should state the exact provisions under which this probe is taking place, failing which, the action will just be an addition to a long list of criminal investigation against news portals in the country that has only served to curtail press freedom.

If there are any parties that are offended or “insulted” by a particular news coverage, they have adequate avenues to pursue civil legal remedy instead of initiating criminal probe against media organisations.

We would like to stress that criticisms of public office holders is a key part of freedom of speech, which is something guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

MCMC had in the past blocked access to TMI’s previous iteration, The Malaysian Insider. These actions contributed to the decision of the owners and operators of the portal to eventually shut it down in 2016, leaving the staff at the organisation without a job overnight.

The portal was relaunched under the current name after almost a year’s absence.

The government should keep in mind that such high-handed actions go against its commitment to nurture a vibrant democracy.

Malaysia’s press freedom has been deteriorating over the past decade.

In 2008, Malaysia was ranked 132nd in the World Press Freedom Index. Despite the array of alternative media that has opened up since then, we have gradually slid down to 144th in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Our regional neighbours Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia and Burma (who have just opened up their democratic space) are all ranked above Malaysia.

The government should be focusing on opening up the space for the press instead of further crippling the field with threats of criminal action.

We stress that the best resolution to address media freedom concerns in Malaysia is to form an independent media council.

The council should be able to self regulate against media organisations that cross the borders of ethical journalism without the government interfering with criminal investigations.

Wan-IFRA Media Freedom Committee (Malaysia)

Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJM)

Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm)

 

IoJ condemns the alleged assault of two Tamil Malar media practitioners

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) is deeply concerned by the alleged assault of two media practitioners at Tamil Malar’s office in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

As it stands, IoJ is still waiting for the authorities to complete their investigation into the allegations that political party members were behind the assault.

IoJ condemns any form of harassment on media practitioners. If the allegations are true, any form of assault towards media members should not be tolerated.

IoJ opposes the regulation of online media

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) is concerned with the idea to register online news portals with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

The proposed regulation of online media is unnecessary and troubling, given the way former news portal The Malaysian Insider was arbitrarily blocked over an allegedly inaccurate news report.

We strongly oppose any form of official regulation of the press, especially if such measures are abused to suppress negative reports about the government of the day.

We instead call for an independent media council consisting of representatives from the various streams of media in Malaysia.

This council would ideally come up with industry guidelines as well as act as an ombudsman for complaints against the media.

We at the IoJ believe that in these difficult times, further regulation of online media may close many of them down, at a time when the public needs to be informed more than ever.

IoJ condemns heavy-handed action against The Star

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) is appalled and deeply concerned by the heavy-handed action taken by the authorities against The Star newspaper over the front page layout of its Saturday (May 27) edition.

The front page, which had the headline “Malaysian Terrorist Leader” over a blow up photo of Muslims performing prayers, had sparked an outcry among certain groups for allegedly being insensitive to Muslims, who form the majority religious group in the country.

In response to public pressure, the Home Ministry summoned four senior editors to Putrajaya for questioning under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, and issued a show-cause letter to the paper.

https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/3935/ (Editors summoned)

At the same time, the police have launched a sedition probe on The Star, following numerous police reports lodged on the matter, according to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/…/the-star-probed-under-s… (Sedition probe)

The IoJ is of the view that such heavy handed action is highly disproportionate to the perceived offence, which could arguably boil down to editorial oversight as opposed to any deliberate attempt to sow racial and religious divisions as claimed by critics.

We also note with deep concern calls made by certain parties for The Star to be suspended, as such a move would be yet another nail in the coffin of press freedom in Malaysia, which is already severely curtailed by archaic laws and hostile treatment by many who hold positions of power.

The Star has since suspended two top editors indefinitely pending investigations into the matter. This decision shows that the paper is willing to take responsibility for whatever transgressions it is seen to have committed, perceived or otherwise.

The IoJ repeats its position that the only way forward in promoting a free press is to allow media organisations to decide for themselves how to deal with such issues and to determine their editorial direction, without undue and misplaced pressure from the authorities.

We also reiterate our call on the Malaysian government to repeal the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, and other repressive laws that impugn on freedom of speech.

The government must take proactive measures to protect media freedom in the country and allow the media to operate freely and independently without any undue interference or threats of persecution for doing their jobs.

Institute of Journalists Malaysian (IoJ)

May 31, 2017

Objection to Dewan Rakyat Speaker’s ruling to ban media personnel from accosting MPs in Parliament

We, the undersigned media groups, wish to register our respectful objection to Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia’s ruling earlier today to ban media personnel from purportedly accosting MPs in Parliament.

According to reports, Pandikar had said that all journalists should only stay at the dedicated press centre or media gallery, instead of being able to wait in the lobby outside the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.

The ruling, which takes immediate effect, was also made on grounds of security – that of lawmakers from both sides of the political divide.

We note that a meeting was held between a group of media personnel and Tan Sri Speaker this afternoon to discuss the matter but the ruling still remains for now.

However, we must express our deep concern that the ruling will restrict reporters’ ability to put issues of national interest to our elected representatives, and result in eroding press freedom – already seen to be on the decline – in the country.

Many media practitioners across various platforms have also voiced their disagreement with the ruling. This includes the National Union of Journalist (NUJ) Malaysia.

Nothing in the law or Standing Orders forbids journalists from accessing parliamentarians, so long as it is not within the Dewans themselves.

By herding journalists to the media gallery, located far from where the MPs conduct their proceedings, our ability to carry out responsible, timely and accurate reporting; especially with regards to the esteemed lawmakers, will be greatly impaired.

We urge the Speaker to review the ruling and for the lawmakers themselves to take serious note of how this will negatively impact press freedom, freedom of expression and democracy in the country – all issues which democratically elected officials must defend and pursue as core principles.

_____

This statement is endorsed by Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm),Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IOJM) and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM).

All three groups are prepared to meet Tan Sri Pandikar and/or his staff, to discuss solutions to issues facing parliamentary coverage.

Abuse of power to charge KiniTV, Malaysiakini editor under CMA

The prosecution of KiniTV and Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 over a video of a press conference is an abhorrent abuse of power by the authorities.

According to Malaysiakini (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/363282), Gan faces separate charges — under Section 233(1) and Section 244(1) of the CMA in his capacity as director of KiniTV that allegedly aired the contentious July 27 video of the press conference by former Batu Kawan Umno vice-chief, Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan.

Khairuddin had demanded the resignation of Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali for refusing to prosecute in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case. (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/362177)

Section 233(1) is a vaguely worded piece of legislation that criminalises the creation of content that is “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive” with the intent to “annoy, abuse, threaten or harass” someone, yet carries a severe punishment.

Those found guilty face a fine not exceeding RM50,000, imprisonment for not more than a year, or both. There is an additional RM1,000 fine every day during which the offence is continued after conviction.

Section 244(1) holds directors and senior officers liable for an offence committed by their company under the CMA.

Section 233 of the CMA has been frequently used against citizens who make anti-government remarks, and now, the authorities are coming after the media for reporting such speech. It should not be a crime to make supposedly “offensive” remarks as Malaysians have the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.

It’s all the more disturbing for the State to take action against the media for reporting supposedly “offensive” remarks.

Charging journalists with a criminal offence simply for reporting a press conference is a reprehensible attack on press freedom. Journalists must have the liberty to report events that they feel merits coverage, even if such coverage may not be favourable to the government of the day.

The media has the responsibility to hold public officials to scrutiny. They should not be prosecuted for reporting criticism of public officials, whether such censure is warranted or not.

Public officials always have the right to reply. It is simply unacceptable to use State action against journalists who do not paint public officials in a good light.

Malaysiakini reported on November 8, when the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) raided their office and seized two computers, that the MCMC had instructed KiniTV two months ago to remove both videos – one in Bahasa Malaysia and the other in English – on Khairuddin’s press conference.

Malaysiakini said they had refused to remove the videos, but took out the word “haprak” (Malay slang that means ‘worse than useless’), which Khairuddin used to describe Apandi. MCMC reportedly said the Attorney-General’s Chambers had lodged the complaint.

If it is true that the AG had made a complaint to MCMC and then later initiated prosecution when Malaysiakini refused to take down the videos containing criticism of the AG himself, then the case poses a conflict of interest and raises serious questions on the abuse of his office.

We call on the AG to drop the case against Malaysiakini and to respect the press.

Journalists must be allowed to do their jobs without the threat of criminal prosecution hanging over their heads.

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia

November 18, 2016

IoJ condemns use of multimedia laws to restrict media freedom

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) is deeply concerned by the government’s continuous use of provisions under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to restrict media freedom in the country.

Yesterday, officers from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) raided the offices of Malaysiakini and seized computers over a video published by their video arm KiniTV in July.

Authorities have again relied on Section 233 of the CMA to carry out investigations against Malaysiakini, the same provision used by the MCMC to indefinitely block access to The Malaysian Insider in February this year.

The provision, which criminalises “improper use of network facilities”, is vague in nature and the use of the provision against media entities also goes against the government’s pledge that there will be no censorship of the Internet.

It is understood that the raid was initiated over a video that recorded politician Khairuddin Abu Hassan uttering an offensive word at a press conference he held in July this year. The word, however, has since been removed from the video.

The IoJ stresses that Malaysiakini and its video arm KiniTV were merely carrying out their duty of reporting an event of public interest and should not be subjected to such pressures from the authorities.

The Institute also notes that this is the second raid carried out on Malaysiakini’s offices in two years.

Last year, both Malaysiakini and The Star Online’s offices were raided over a news news report regarding the alleged transfer of a deputy public prosector from the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC).

The use of criminal laws against news organisations for running stories of public interest is unacceptable and could be construed as an act of intimidation.

The IoJ maintains its position that aggrieved parties have every opportunity to engage media organisations over any dispute related to a news report, failing which they have the option to pursue legal recourse through the civil court.

The IoJ urges the MCMC to cease and desist from conducting such raids and to respect media and internet freedom as enshrined under the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC)’s Bill of Guarantees.

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia

November 9, 2016.

Stop using anti-terrorism laws against the media

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) strongly condemns the use of anti-terrorism laws against news portal Malaysiakini following allegations that they had received foreign funding to undermine the Government.

Malaysiakini’s editor-in-chief Steven Gan and Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed that the investigation is underway under Section 124C of the Penal Code.

Section 124C criminalises attempts commit an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy, with a punishment of up to 15 years’ prison.

The use of anti-terrorism laws against a media company sets a disturbing precedent, and is a heavy handed method that can be seen as an attempt to silence dissent.

On the same note, the Institute also condemns Red Shirts movement leader Datuk Seri Jamal Yunos’ threat to hold a gathering outside the Malaysiakini offices if his queries on the portal’s funding source was not explained.

In particular, his statement that he would “ensure that part of this building will collapse” can be clearly interpreted as a threat and a form of intimidation against Malaysiakini.

Journalists must be allowed to do their work without facing threats, acts of violence or intimidation.

While the authorities have the right to conduct investigations, it is unacceptable to have other parties to use the opportunity to harass a media entity while the investigations are ongoing.

The IOJ stresses however receiving foreign funding is not tantamount to, and cannot be construed as a wrongdoing. Such speculations are unfair and undermines the due process.

Malaysiakini previously explained that a grant from American billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation (OSF) was used to produce the Realiti Sarawak and Sekilas Bumi Kenyalang programmes by its video arm, KiniTV, and that the grant only constituted a small portion of its revenue.