No sweeping reforms on Malaysia Day, especially for media, freedom of expression

1

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is disappointed that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s promise of sweeping democratic reforms in his public address on the eve of Malaysia Day did not extend to media freedom.

Photo credits: uppercaise

Najib’s minor concession in removing the requirement for an annual publishing permit in the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) does not address other infringements on freedom of expression within the PPPA itself:

1. Under Section 5 of the PPPA, the Malaysian government still holds power over permits to publish newspapers. The Home Minister has sole power to grant or deny applications, revoke permits which have been issued (which according to the PM’s announcement will not have to be renewed annually), and set conditions before issuing them. There is no recourse to judicial review of the Home Minister’s decisions regarding the permits.
2. Under Section 3 of the PPPA, the Home Minister controls the licences to use printing presses.
3. Under Section 7 of the PPPA, the Home Ministry controls all publications (defined as books, articles, music, photographs, caricatures, reports, notes etc) in the country and can issue bans on those it deems “undesirable”.

The net effect is that the media, print in particular, will continue to be under government control, and journalists will continue to practise self-censorship.

And while the Malaysian Government’s support for the setting up of a “self-regulatory” press council in a meeting with print editors yesterday sounds promising, CIJ is cautious about the Najib administration’s seeming about-turn which contradicts the various attempts over the years, as recent as July 25, 2011, to establish a state-led media council.

READ MORE:  Hakam urges government to expedite pro-human rights reforms

The government’s unreformed position when it comes to freedom of expression is reflected in its response to the Malaysiakini court challenge to the Home Ministry’s rejection of its application for a publishing permit. Deputy Home Minister Abu Seman Yusop in his affidavit-in-reply filed on Sept 12, 2011, said permits were a “privilege”, and the denial of permits cannot be equated to denial of the right to free speech. This position ignores the people’s right to information, especially those who do not have Internet access and are thus deprived of alternative, freer media that can afford a more critical perspective.

The Prime Minister also needs to clarify whether the government still plans to widen the scope of the PPPA to include online media, in apparent contradiction to its much-touted commitment to Internet freedom.

Lastly, if Malaysian society and the media landscape is to be transformed, reforms have to be comprehensive and it requires major changes in the letter as well as spirit of various laws, such as the Sedition Act 1948, and the Penal Code provisions for criminal defamation. It also requires a paradigm shift that will see broad-based reforms on democratic and human rights, the most crucial of which is to restore judicial independence and introduce police accountability.

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
1 Comment
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gopal Raj Kumar
18 Sep 2011 1.45pm

How could the Malaysian media, especially its so called alternative media demand any rights? in order for them to be entitled to rights of freedom of expression, they ought to demonstrate they re themselves capable of understanding that right and respecting it when it comes to the views of others. Nutgraph and Malaysia Kini in particular. The Star online and Lim Kit Siang’s blog amongst these as well. Unless there is a mutual respect for the freedoms and rights of others to express their views however difficult it may be to absorb or read, in the absence of profanity, obscenity and defamation they have a right to have their views expressed publicly in a free society. People like me have never had any difficulty blogging, publishing the views of my guest writers or getting some of our works published on the New Straits Times and on occasion the Star. All too often we are referred to as UMNO cyber troopers. That’s the best come back line or defence from those in opposition who have the audacity to claim there are no press freedoms. If thats the… Read more »