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)