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Govt working on freedom of information law

03 May 2021 / 17:44 H.

PETALING JAYA: The government is working on a bill which will allow for freedom of information.

Policy and Research Legal Affairs Division, Prime Minister’s Department, director Dr Punitha Silivarajoo said this is important as freedom of information plays a big part in providing a clear and truthful message of what is happening.

“We started working on the Bill in 2019 after getting the Cabinet go ahead. We have engaged with all stakeholders to discuss what form the Bill should take.

“We need to balance the Bill with the Official Secrets Act as not all information can be released,“ she said during the World Press Freedom Day forum themed “Information as a Public Good.”

She said they were also looking at the human rights angle and have held talks with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), non-governmental organisations, civil society and other relevant agencies..

She hopes to have the Bill ready before the next general elections.

“We are also studying how effective the Freedom of Information laws that were passed by Penang and Selangor have been.

“We are looking at the problems and issues that have occurred after the law was passed,“ she said.

Punitha said there are issues on how to protect certain information while allowing people to access the necessary information.

She said the most important factor is that the Freedom of Information law must co- exist with all other laws.

“There must also be a change of mindset in the civil service as they have always worked within the ambit of the OSA,” she added.

She said we need to draw a fine line between the OSA and the need to provide information to the public.

Malaysia dropped the furthest in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index after falling 18 spots to number 119.

Filmmaker and journalist Mahi Ramakrishnan, who took part in the forum, said she was worried whether the government will clamp down even harder on the media.

She pointed out to the RM500,000 fine imposed on Malaysiakini for a reader’s comments.

She said Al Jazeera was investigated for its migrant worker exposé and the probe into stories from Malaysiakini and China Press about the police.

“We do not know what is going to happen after we tackle and overcome the Covid-19 pandemic as many issues will be coming out,“ she said.

Mahi said issues such as the emergency, does the government have enough support or has it collapsed will be out in the open.

She said it is unknown what will happen when these issues come up.

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