Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Promises Not Realities, Cautions Media Panel

by Zac Hill

The Annexe Gallery at Central Market, along with the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), hosted a forum on 10 May 2009 discussing the contemporary Malaysian media climate and its potential for greater openness. Entitled “Media Under Najib: Hope or Disappointment?” the forum chronicled emerging trends across both traditional and new media in the weeks since Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s ascension to power.

“All this talk about reform is just that: cheap talk,” said panelist Zaharom Nain, a lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia and author of more than 80 publications dealing with the political economy of the media. His sentiments were echoed, over the course of the forum, by the other panellists, including the outspoken 1BLACKMalaysia progenitor Wong Chin Huat, and former Centre for Public Policy Studies Director Tricia Yeoh, now with the Selangor Menteri Besar’s office.

“Look what Barisan Nasional has given us,” continued Zaharom. “Promises, promises, promises; half-baked assurances and contradictions. As Chin Huat and others would testify, it has not been promising so far. The actors may have changed, but the overall rotten structures of an anti-democratic regime still remain.”

Zaharom’s allusion to his fellow speaker resonated greatly with a crowd largely sympathetic with Wong’s recent tribulations. Wong was arrested on 5 May following a police report that was later revealed to have been lodged by Jais Abdul Karim from Permuafakatan Warisan Islam (Pewaris) on allegations of ‘sedition’. Earlier on the same day, Wong had urged Malaysians to wear black on 7 May to protest what he described as “the ongoing Perak coup” by the Barisan Nasional government. He was eventually released 60 hours before his scheduled appointment to speak at CIJ's forum.

For Wong, his recent detention appeared merely the last straw in a legacy of oppression and constraint. He pulled no punches, asserting that without dissent and dialogue, legitimate elections could never be possible. “If there’s any Special Branch here, take this in,” he challenged. “Without elections, the government would be equivalent to the Mafia. They control territory, they extract money, they do not allow anyone living in their territory to refuse to pay money. The only thing distinguishing one from the other is that, with the government, the people have the right to control who controls them.”

When pressed about the legitimacy of the actions that put him behind bars, Wong exhibited uncompromising resolve. “How do you define ‘disaffection'?” he asked, referring to the statutory terminology of the Sedition Act. “The definition is so vague, you can put anyone behind bars! I have to thank the police for making the point so clear. I didn’t ask anyone to do anything! I didn't ask anyone to shout any slogan. I didn't even ask anyone to go to Ipoh...I merely asked people to wear black to show their unhappiness.”

For Yeoh, the government’s purported willingness to change simply didn’t line up with the facts. “You have [Information Minister] Rais Yatim saying ‘a diplomatic approach is needed in dealing with private media corps and bloggers,’ while in the same breath saying ‘we have to take legal action against hardcore perpetrators,’ whatever that means. I’m not sure that this reflects the attitude of an administration committed to reform,” she said, to laughter and wide applause.

The discussion centered on the notion of legal and institutional change as a means to media reform, calling for the repeal of laws like the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act in order to pave the way for change. It also emphasised the importance of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Freedom to objectively evaluate the contemporary media climate in an open consultative process that will include participation from all stakeholders. But the recommendations weren’t exclusively top-down in nature.

“We need to start looking at options like community newspapers, community radio,” said Yeoh. “Radio is very powerful at the kampung level. And journalists have a very powerful role to play—try not to self-censor too much, to push the line as far as you can. Use the words of reform that are being supposedly espoused by Najib and his gang to challenge your editors.” Yeoh acknowledged, however, that many of these steps were difficult or impossible without corresponding legislative action.

The panellists appeared surprisingly optimistic, however, in spite of these obstacles. For forum moderator Vanitha Nadaraj, this optimism was born out of recognition of common goals.

“We all have one dream: To make Malaysia a better place,” she concluded.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wong Chin Huat will be speaking this Sunday

Spokeperson for the '1BlackMalaysia' campaign, Wong Chin Huat, will speak as scheduled at the forum 'Media Under Najib: Hope or Disappointment'.

Wong was freed at 3:40pm on 8 May after being remanded since 5 May under the Sedition Act.

Join Wong, other speakers Zaharom Nain and Tricia Yeoh, moderator Vanitha Nadaraj and other guests this Sunday!

Newsflash: Chin Huat Released

Detained political analyst and social activist, Wong Chin Huat, was just released from police custody at 3.40 pm on police bail. He maintains that his arrest is an attempt at intimidation and a warning against those who had planned to gather in Ipoh yesterday to protest against the convening of the State Assembly from wearing black and showing dissent.

The police apparently took action after a report by the non-governmental organisation PEWARIS.

Chin Huat has been asked to report back to the police on 22 May, 2009 and both his computer as well as his USB flash drive had been confiscated.

Chin Huat is also due to speak during this Sunday's public forum: Media Under Najib: Hope or Disappointment. We will keep you updated on any latest developments.

Monday, May 4, 2009

CIJ, WAMI: Time for a Road Map on Media Freedom for Democracy

Press Release
3 May 2009

Malaysians Demand for Media Freedom on World Press Freedom Day 2009
CIJ, WAMI: Time for a Road Map on Media Freedom for Democracy

3 May 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: The time is right for reforms in media freedom and freedom of expression as the Malaysian public grows more discerning and demanding for a freer and more democratic society.

In commemorating World Press Freedom Day 2009, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) call on Prime Minister Najib Razak to reveal a road map on media freedom for democracy, which entails immediate halt to any form of censorship of news, views and opinions, and to suspend the use of the licensing provision in the Printing Presses and Publications Act that gives the government arbitrary powers in deciding the terms for publications.

CIJ and WAMI also would like to remind the State Governments that it is high time reforms were put in place involving media and access to information laws.

Despite the strong message delivered by voters in the 12th general elections, rejecting censorship and control of media and information, and delivering a severe blow to the Federal Government under Barisan Nasional (BN), the latter has not taken any concrete steps to demonstrate its openness to change.

The latest restriction on Internet media by the BN-led Perak state from its Legislative Assembly scheduled on the May 7, is grossly inconsistent with the “1Malaysia” concept propounded by the new Prime Minister. We note worryingly that despite the rhetoric of openness in “1Malaysia”, the new PM administration is reversing the former PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's recognition to professionally-run Internet media by regularly restricting them from covering official functions.

In addition, the Federal government is implicitly threatening bloggers and online commentators with the Communication and Multimedia Act (CMA) and the Internal Security Act (ISA). This is evident as the new Information Minister Rais Yatim expounds "diplomatic" engagement with bloggers, his Ministry actively take action against those who criticized the Perak Royal House online using the CMA. The ISA was also memorably invoked in September 2008 against prominent blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, Selangor state Exco Teresa Kok and journalist Tan Hoon Cheng. Raja Petra is now in hiding, fearing a third detention under the law.

“We expect to see a road map presented to the public by August that contains plans and timelines for what will be done to reform the areas of media freedom and access to information. We want to know when and not if, the government will begin its review of the laws that affect freedom of expression," said CIJ Executive Director V. Gayathry.

“Following this, by November, the government should table a bill to amend the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act to provide for a one-time registration for media outlets and to reinstate/include judicial review of the Minister's decision with regard to issuance of permit. At the same time Najib should first set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to review media laws," said Wong Chin Huat.


Issued by
Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Director, CIJ


Wong Chin Huat
Chairman, WAMI

For more information please contact Wai Fong at 03 4023 0772


No Censorship
Suspend the use of the licensing provision in the Printing Presses and Publications Act on newspapers and publications to demonstrate goodwill on the part of the ruling government to lessen its control and censorship of information and expression through the media. In addition, the government should commit to no censorship of news, views and opinions in public fora, the broadcast media and online spaces.

3 Months
Road Map on Reforms Presented to the Public
The Federal and State Governments should present their road map on reforms proposed in the area of promoting media freedom and citizen's access to public information, to the public. Talks of reforms are pointless if they are not supported by concrete steps and measures that the public can assess and measure the political parties against.

6 Months

Amendments to the PPPA
Efforts are put in place to table amendments to the PPPA by the end of the year to provide that (a) all media outlets only need to register with the Ministry without printing license or annual publishing permit; (b) and the judicial review is reinstated.

Setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reform
An InterParliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reform should be set up within the next six months that will monitor the state of freedom of information and expression in Malaysia and initiative a public participation process to review the laws that have a negativ impact on media freedom and freedom of expression. Among others, the Select Committee can begin by reviewing laws such as the PPPA, the Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act and the Internal Security Act for repeal, amend laws such as the Communications and Multimedia Act, and enacting a Right to Information Law.

1 – 2 years

Enactment of a Right to Information Law
Globally, over 80 countries have adopted the right to information law and Malaysia is not among the trend setters. This law is imperative for any efforts to have good and clean governments and where the citizens can enjoy full acceess to public information. The enactment of the right to information law should also involve a thorough amendment or complete repeal of the Official Secrets Act.