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

Lift restriction on media personnel covering Parliamentary proceedings

We, the undersigned groups, note with serious concern the recent restriction imposed on media personnel covering the Parliamentary proceedings.

The Parliament corporate communications department has announced that effective Nov 16, each news agency will only be allowed to assign three journalists, inclusive of photographers or videographers.

The decision was made supposedly due to critical working space constraints as a result of ongoing renovation works, scheduled for completion only in 2018.

The decision, however, could be construed as an attempt to limit coverage of Parliamentary proceedings and stifle freedom of the press.

We would like to point out that state-owned media agencies, RTM and Bernama, currently have large contingents in Parliament to carry out live coverage on television.

Should this regulation not apply to certain media organisations, it could be surmised that Parliament, the bedrock of Malaysia‘s democracy, is not facilitating fair and free access to all media, a key cornerstone in the democratic process.

Given the fact that renovation works will be ongoing for the next few years, the restriction would make it unfeasible for the media agencies to effectively carry out their primary duties of informing the public.

We jointly urge the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs Datuk Seri Azalina Othman and Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia to not only lift the restriction, but also facilitate media coverage of parliamentary proceedings, taking into account the need to accommodate long-term renovation works.

Jointly issued by:
Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm)
Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
Foreign Correspondents Club Malaysia (FCCM)
Malaysian Press Photographers Association (MPPA)
National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ)

Condemning restriction on media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings

We, the undersigned groups, note with serious concern the recent restriction imposed on media personnel covering the Parliamentary proceedings.

The Parliament corporate communications department has announced that effective Nov 16, each news agency will only be allowed to assign three journalists, inclusive of photographers or videographers.

The decision was made supposedly due to critical working space constraints as a result of ongoing renovation works, scheduled for completion only in 2018.

The decision, however, could be construed as an attempt to limit coverage of Parliamentary proceedings and stifle freedom of the press.

We would like to point out that state-owned media agencies, RTM and Bernama, currently have large contingents in Parliament to carry out live coverage on television.

Should this regulation not apply to certain media organisations, it could be surmised that Parliament, the bedrock of Malaysia‘s democracy, is not facilitating fair and free access to all media, a key cornerstone in the democratic process.

Given the fact that renovation works will be ongoing for the next few years, the restriction would make it unfeasible for the media agencies to effectively carry out their primary duties of informing the public.

We jointly urge the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs Datuk Seri Azalina Othman and Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia to not only lift the restriction, but also facilitate media coverage of parliamentary proceedings, taking into account the need to accommodate long-term renovation works.

This statement is endorsed by Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm), Institute of Journalists Malaysia, , the National Union of Journalists Malaysia(NUJM), Center for Independent Journalism Malaysia (CIJ), the Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) and the Malaysian Press Photographers Association (MPPA).

IoJ welcomes KL High Court’s decision to quash suspension of The Edge’s publishing licenses

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) welcomes the Kuala Lumpur High Court decision today to quash the government’s suspension of the publishing licenses of The Edge Malaysia Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily.

High Court judge Datuk Asmabi Mohamad ruled that the Home Ministry acted illegally and irrationally in issuing the three-month suspension order. She noted that the Home Ministry’s show cause letter to The Edge publisher did not specify which articles the government found to be undesirable.

The IoJ urges the government not to appeal against the High Court ruling in the interest of press freedom, transparency and public accountability.

The government should, instead, exercise its right of reply and explain its side of the story on any issue in order to meet its obligations to the public interest, especially when it concerns public funds.

The press can only function in the public interest if it has the independence to report without fear or favour. The government has no right to license the press and should abolish its licensing regime with immediate effect.