24 MAY 2021
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) and National Union of Journalists (NUJM) are alarmed by the frequent use of harassment tactics by the Malaysian authorities toward the media.
On 18 May 2021, two Malaysiakini journalists were summoned by the police to give their statements over three articles relating to the death of A Ganapathy who died while seeking treatment in the hospital after being arrested by the police in early February this year.
Just prior to that, on 10 May 2021, Malaysiakini Bahasa Malaysia desk editor and broadcast journalist were also summoned by the police for questioning in relation to their article on former IGP Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador allegations during a press conference.
It is a worrying pattern to see journalists being summoned by the police for their reporting. This year alone, we saw at least five incidents where journalists are being questioned and investigated. It is alarming that the same media outlet is being targeted and this year alone, Malaysiakini has been summoned at least two times.
Specifically, we have seen the following media called in for investigations in the last few months:
1) ASTRO Awani – controversial news delivery by Awani’s newsreader on the ‘Awani 745’ news programme
2) Free Malaysia Today (FMT) – Gombak Police Chief threatened to sue FMT over two news articles
3) China Press – over reports on DIGP’s rape threat remark
The press should not be subjected to being summoned by the government or threatened with action on the basis of articles they publish in their capacity as the media. Instead of investigating journalists, authorities should focus on conducting investigations into police misconduct. Harassing journalists for performing their duties is seen as a tactic to stifle press freedom. In a recent Reporter Without
Borders annual press freedom index report, Malaysia’s press freedom index is now down 18 places at 119 (out of 180 countries ranked). For context, Malaysia’s best ranking was just one year ago in 2020 (101st place).
The media and the police are two entities that interact regularly and the relationship can be described as symbiotic. The media need the police to supply them with information that is of interest to their readers, listeners, or viewers. The police need the media to disseminate and publicise information on crimes and even sought witnesses from the community. Both the media and the police force must be accountable to the public and every citizen deserves the right to access crucial information. It is the media’s role to report on any allegations of government misconduct and should not be summoned or investigated for carrying out this fundamental role.
Curbing media space and attempting to intimidate media into silence are elements of a failing state. We remind the State and its leaders that encouraging an open and effective media serves to improve the environment for long-term social, political and economic stability. This would facilitate the right to seek and exchange ideas, opinions and information that would enable the public to form their own opinions and allow for dissenting or alternative positions, and ultimately, aid in the promotion of good governance and in holding the State and its officials to higher account, which is, no doubt, what is expected of a democratic State.
We call on the current government to end and refrain from the continued use of intimidating measures to threaten and punish the media and silence critical voices. To this end, we urge the government to:
1) Stop summoning the media on the basis of their news articles;
2) Drop all investigations against the media;
3) Initiate an independent inquiry into possible mismanagement of the powers of the authorities in their actions against media;
4) Move ahead with the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry, and to avoid the government from becoming the sole arbiter of truth and deciding what information should and should not be published.
At a time when the public is struggling to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic it is more paramount for the current regime to create an enabling environment that would support free media and focus on sustaining the credibility of the State in the eyes of the public; rather than reinforce the increasing measures to silence dissent or opinions that places the ruling regime in an unfavourable light.
This press statement was issued by Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) and National Union of Journalists of Malaysia (NUJM). AWAM is one of the signatories of this press statement.