Malaysia's Press Freedom at all time Low

By FMT Staff

PETALING JAYA: The level of press freedom in Malaysia has eroded and this reality is supported by the freedom of press index released by international organisation Reporters Without Borders.

According to the index, freedom of press in Malaysia in 2009 was at its all time lowest. Malaysia had dropped to 39.02 points compared with 44.25 in previous year.

The drop is attributed to several measures by the federal government to suppress media voice.

This view was expressed by The Sun’s political editor Zainon Ahmad at a forum -- "Is It Necessary to Regulate the Print Media in Malaysia" -- organised by the National Union of Journalists yesterday.

In his talk, Zainon suggested the setting of a press council to supervise the media without interference by the ruling government.

Zainon said he had sent a proposal paper to former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was in office but received no reply.

According to Zainon, a press council’s role would be to oversee matters such as freedom of information dissemination, improving the quality of journalists and ensuring ethical reporting as practised in developed countries.

“The press council is not only meant to set out rules and policies but includes training of journalists about ethics and proper reporting practices,” he said.

The same forum also addressed the obstruction faced by the media when reporting certain cases.

No changes in 52 years

Zainon said the tightening of media leash was often attributed to the government’s concern over inter-racial harmony.

“We must not disturb or touch on sensitivities and civil harmony... but this is only an excuse. It has resulted in many unsolved issues although it's been 52 years since independence," Zainon said.

UiTM emeritus professor of law Shad Saleem Faruqi, meanwhile, said the 52 years had not seen any change or amendment to the regulations governing press freedom.

He said although in principle the federal constitution allowed individuals to challenge a minister in court, it was almost next to impossible to do so in this country.

Citing the case of the Aliran publication, he said, the tabloid was not issued a permit to publish in Bahasa Melayu by then home minister Sanusi Junid.

“Aliran took the case to court on Sept 2, 1987, but the court favoured the ruling government.

“In the entire 52 years of independence, there has not been a single law related to the media that has changed,” he said.

Another panellist at the forum, Harakahdaily chief editor Zulkifli Sulong noted that although the federal constitution ensured individuals the right to receiving information, views and suggestions, the existence of other associated laws such as the Sedition Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) hampered the media's work.

Citing Harakah’s own experience in 2000, he said the home ministry had dragged him as chief editor to court under the Sedition Act.

“It happened on Jan 12, 2000, because Harakah had in 1999 hit 400,000 copies print-run per issue. It had become the most popular publication in Malaysia, “ he said, adding that since then it had not been a quiet walk for Harakah.

Noting that the situation had not changed, he said the most recent incident involved senior ntv7 journalist Joshua Chong and TV2 Mandarin programme producer.

Must be guided by the constitution

Earlier, Dewan Negara president Abu Zahar Ujang, who launched the forum, said the government should give the Malaysian press enough latitude to do its job.

Bernama reported that he, however, stressed that this freedom (to report and publish) must be guided by the constitution.

“To me, I always believe that freedom must be guided by responsibility. Responsibility to the country and the people in maintaining peace and harmony.

"The government should be quite open to allow the media to air their views, be fair and reasonable to the press," he said.

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