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.

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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.

Investigate anti-Bersih group for allegedly assaulting journalists

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) strongly condemns the anti-Bersih group’s alleged harassment of members of the media covering the Bersih convoy in Kuala Selangor yesterday.

The Star reported that those from the anti-Bersih group, some of whom were clad in red, allegedly grabbed the collar of one of its female journalists, pushed her and told her to delete a video recording of the standoff between the anti-Bersih and Bersih groups. (http://www.thestar.com.my/…/the-star-journos-harassed-by-a…/)

The Star also said the anti-Bersih group allegedly forced the newspaper’s videographer to delete visuals from his smartphone, snatched the phone away from him and took a picture of his media tag.

Malaysiakini reported that the anti-Bersih group allegedly punched the news portal’s photographer on the shoulder and called her “Cina babi”. (https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/359189)

Other reporters from The Star and Malaysiakini were also allegedly roughed up when they tried to intervene on the behalf of the female reporter from The Star.

Malaysiakini said the anti-Bersih group were not clad in red shirts, but were believed to be associated with Red Shirts leader Datuk Jamal Md Yunos as some had attended previous Red Shirts rallies.

The allegations of assault against the press are especially disturbing as the targets were women journalists. Violence against women is despicable. Taking pictures of a journalist’s media tag is also an act of intimidation.

We urge the police to take immediate action against the alleged perpetrators of assault. Freedom of speech does not include violent behaviour.

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

Anti-Bersih groups or any other party should be brave enough to face media scrutiny instead of using violence to suppress coverage.

The IoJ is opposed to any acts of violence. We urge the police to uphold citizens’ right to freedom of assembly without the fear of violent reprisal.

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia

Stop the clampdown on editorial independence

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) views with serious concern the recent reported announcement by a federal minister of plans to take action against Malaysiakini for citing a foreign news report in a story on Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik.

On July 11, Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak was quoted in a report by Utusan Malaysia as saying that his ministry will “investigate and use existing powers to take action” against Malaysiakini for publishing a story that cited a report by Bangladesh-based newspaper The Daily Star on Dr Zakir.

The Daily Star in its original report claimed that Dr Zakir had a following from among the suspects responsible for the deadly Dhaka attack on July 1.

The minister also reportedly took exception to Malaysiakini publishing allegedly “rude” comments posted by its readers in response to its story.

The Institute notes the growing tendency of the authorities in recent times to clamp down on journalists and media organisations on grounds of provoking sensitivities on various issues.

Any government has the right to take a position on any matter of public interest. Disagreeing with a journalist’s or news organisation’s line of reporting, however, does not justify immediate threats of legal or criminal action by the authorities.

The Institute is cognizant of the fact that religious and racial sensitivities are a prime consideration in Malaysia in many respects, including the publishing of news.

At the same time, it becomes the responsibility of news organisations to deliver information to the public in a timely and responsible manner, free from undue restraints or intimidation from the authorities and those in public office.

Rather than react with a confrontational approach, the Institute urges the minister and the authorities to actively engage the media and to build an open, direct and honest dialogue as is the norm in mature democracies.

Heavy-handed treatment of the media will only result in the shutting down of viable avenues for the public to gain trustworthy and reliable information, and is ultimately a disservice to public interest.

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia

Stop the media clampdown and repeal oppressive laws

In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day, the Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) calls for an end to any and all intimidation of the press by the authorities.

In recent weeks, we highlighted no less than two cases where journalists have faced criminal investigations for news reports that allegedly did not go down well with news makers.

There are sufficient legal avenues for any party to seek recourse if they believe they have been defamed in the media. The State should not interfere in private matters.

Aside from ending intimidation, the government must also stop arbitrary blocks of online news sites and remove any and all government oversight of print publications, in the interest of freedom of information.

Freedom of information must be protected in a mature democracy so that citizens can know more about matters that affect them and be able to make informed choices.

As Malaysia moves towards developed nation status by 2020, fundamental freedoms like freedom of information must similarly be increased to promote a marketplace of ideas and to allow society to flourish.

In line with improving access to information, we also call for the repeal of oppressive laws such as the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), the Sedition Act 1948 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

These laws, many of which date back to the era of colonial rule, give the authorities the power to decide broadly what can and cannot be discussed in public. Such legislation should not have any place in a modern democracy.

We also call for the consultation of all stakeholders before the government proceeds with legal amendments that will require news portals and so-called political blogs to register with the government.

The proposed regulation of online media is unnecessary and troubling, given the way the now-defunct news website The Malaysian Insider was arbitrarily blocked over an allegedly inaccurate news report. We strongly oppose any form of regulation of the press, especially if such measures are abused to suppress negative reports about the government of the day.

On World Press Freedom Day, we urge the government not to look at the media as enemies, but as a crucial institution that must be free to hold the powerful accountable.

Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ)
May 3, 2016

Stop using criminal laws against journalists

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) is deeply concerned over the Royal Malaysian Police’s (PDRM) continued use of the Sedition Act 1948 to investigate journalists for writing news reports.

The police have called in The Heat Malaysia journalist Zakiah Koya for questioning under the Act today following an article she wrote about the Citizens’ Declaration early last month.

Zakiah is being investigated for her report, “Ousting Najib by all means”, which was based on a press conference held by several prominent political leaders on March 4 this year.

We strongly condemn the use of the Sedition Act against any journalist in the line of duty.

It is the duty of a journalist to record current affairs in the country, by writing news reports or even analysis or comment pieces based on observations of and comments by public figures.

Recent actions by the police reflect an inability to recognise the role media plays in a democracy, and stands to further hurt our press freedom standards.

Just days earlier, Malaysiakini reporter Kow Gah Chie was investigated under Section 505 (c) of the Penal Code for causing public mischief by allegedly writing an inaccurate news report.

Previously, Malaysiakini journalist Susan Loone, and five journalists from The Malaysian Insider were also arrested under the Sedition Act because police reports were lodged over their news reports.

We urge the police and the government to immediately drop all these investigations against journalists.

There are many other measures – such as seeking a clarification from the media outlet and civil litigation suits – that could be used in the event of allegedly inaccurate or defamatory news reports.

Using criminal laws against journalists for doing their jobs is not a solution, and could be perceived as Malaysia’s authorities taking an oppressive turn.

Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ)
April 29, 2016

Journalists must be protected from harassment

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) is deeply concerned to find that Malaysiakini had recalled its reporter Kow Gah Chie from Sarawak last Saturday for safety reasons during the news portal’s coverage of the state election.

According to Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan, the decision was made after Kow’s photograph was circulated on social media, following her news report on Barisan Nasional (BN) incumbent Nangka assemblyman Dr Annuar Rapaee’s speech at a seminar in Sibu on April 21. He had reportedly claimed that he was taken out of context.

We strongly condemn the harassment of Kow on social media. Journalists should not be subjected to threats of harm for doing their jobs.

If newsmakers feel that they have been taken out of context, they can contact the relevant media organisation and request a correction. They can also issue a statement and make clarifications.

It was also reported that the police are investigating Kow under Section 505(c) of the Penal Code after six police reports were lodged over her article.

Section 505(c) states that it is an offence when one “makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report— with intent to incite or which is likely to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community of persons”.

Initiating a criminal investigation against a journalist for their work is tantamount to harassment by the authorities, regardless of allegations of inaccuracies in a news report. Again, the aggrieved party has ample legal recourse to seek redress and it is not for the police, or for any other authority, to act on the aggrieved party’s behalf in what is ultimately a civil matter.

We urge the police to instead probe if there were threats made against Kow and also to investigate the invasion of her privacy, as her photograph was circulated on social media without her consent. Such incidents present a real risk for journalists, who already face numerous legal, and in some cases physical, hazards in their daily work.

Journalists must be allowed to do their jobs without fear of reprisal from the State or threats of violence from individuals.

Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ)
April 25, 2016