THE Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) calls for an immediate stop to actions that threaten media freedom.
Its call is rooted on the recent raid on international news agency Al Jazeera’s office here in Kuala Lumpur on August 4 and similar raids on Astro and UnifiTV for having aired the mentioned documentary, the CIJ said in a statement.
“The State is clearly on a rampage against Al Jazeera over its “Locked Up In Malaysia’s Lockdown“ documentary, which has been criticised by State leaders as being inaccurate and malicious over its depiction of Malaysia’s alleged mistreatment of migrant workers during the Movement Control Order imposed to curb Covid-19,” said CIJ executive director Wathshlah G Naidu in the statement.
“We are appalled that the crackdown on Al Jazeera and those associated with the documentary continues to persist, despite widespread scrutiny and uproar from civil society organisations, politicians and the public. To date, the government has yet to debunk Al Jazeera’s claims with verifiable facts and evidence to demonstrate that fundamental human rights of migrants have not been undermined. Thus, we reiterate our call for the government to conduct an independent inquiry or investigation into the allegations, as reported in the documentary, and base its course of action on the results of said investigation.”
The statement also raised concerns on action taken against Malaysiakini over comments by one of its readers on a story on its portal, and journalists Boo Su-Lyn of CodeBlue and Tashny Sukamaran representing the South China Morning Post.
The CIJ views the action taken against all these media firms and personnel as “indicative of a deliberate and concerted effort by the State at silencing voices and reporting that are critical or dissenting, and has the potential to paint an adverse picture of the government’s actions.
“As a media watchdog, we are especially concerned that Malaysia’s position on the World Press Freedom Index, which only recently recorded a spike, will go down the ladder with the aforementioned actions.”
In view of the above, the CIJ is calling for State and its apparatus to adopt the following measures:
1. Drop all investigations and stop all acts of intimidation and adverse actions against Al Jazeera and related media entities such as Astro and UnifiTV, whistleblowers and others associated with the Al Jazeera documentary;
2. Promote media freedom and create an enabling environment for the media to function with independence and with no fear of repercussion
for carrying out their reporting functions. This would require the commitment of the government to go beyond rhetorics and actually implement the promises and pledges that have been made by the Minister of Communication and Multimedia iterating that the current regime will promote media freedom and adopt measures to amend laws that restrict media freedom;
3. Place a moratorium on the use of repressive laws that the State has committed to amend, including Section 233 of the Communication and
Multimedia Act 1998, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Act 1981, among others, and;
4. Move ahead with the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry, a call CIJ has made on numerous occasions since the change of government this year. Having a media council in place will avoid the State and its agencies from becoming the sole arbiter of truth or arbitrarily censoring or punishing the media for reporting that is critical of the State.
“It is incumbent on the government to ensure that they act now and not be complicit in allowing media freedom in Malaysia to go back to the dark days where journalists were censored or penalised for simply doing their job and when media outlets operated within a climate of fear,” the media watchdog and non-profit organisation concluded in its statement.