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