The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) is greatly disturbed by the arrests of Ho Kay Tat, Jahabar Sadiq, Lionel Andrew Morais, Amin Shah bin Iskandar and Zulkifli bin Sulong from The Malaysian Insider (TMI) over its report headlined “Council of Rulers opposes amendments needed to enforce hudud”.
If the report was inaccurate, the convention would be for the Conference of Rulers to issue a statement correcting it and for TMI to make an apology or to retract the article. The IoJ notes the report does not mention if TMI had approached the Conference of Rulers for verification. Journalistic diligence is required in reporting so that none is unfairly brought into public disrepute.
However, to arrest and to seek the remand of the journalists over the report under the Sedition Act 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is a grossly disproportionate response to the report’s contents and tone, and an arbitrary use of the law. This is especially so because the journalists have made themselves readily available to assist in official investigations.
These arrests cast the country’s law enforcement agencies into public disrepute and erode their perceived legitimacy.
They come amid other arrests of reportedly more than 100 activists and politicians this month alone and create a climate of fear that prevents the practice of journalism without fear or favour, as newsrooms are already under pressure to practise self-censorship.
The IoJ also deeply regrets the pressure exerted on the law enforcement and regulatory authorities by the public statements of politicians on the TMI report.
The IoJ believes the Malaysian press holds itself to the same standards of transparency and accountability that it advocates for those in public office and understands that TMI would have welcomed the opportunity to publicly account for it.
The disproportionate enforcement action was a sorely missed opportunity to encourage a much-needed civil and informed conversation on the responsibility and role of the press as a public institution, especially in light of the recent divisiveness in the country.
We reiterate our call for the Sedition Act to be repealed and we urge the authorities to refrain from taking unnecessarily heavy-handed action against the press.
The Institute of Journalists Malaysia