CIJ: Stop threatening media over 1MDB reports

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It is disrespectful of press freedom and our democracy for the home minister to make such threats, Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee against the press.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is dismayed at Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s recent threats against the media.

Zahid warned that action could be taken against The Edge under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and against Sarawak Report under the Communications and Multimedia Act in relation to reports on government-owned investment corporation 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The threats come in the wake of the arrest of former PetroSaudi employee Xavier Justo in Bangkok on allegations of attempted extortion and blackmail. Zahid said that investigations revealed that data obtained by Justo in relation to PetroSaudi’s business dealings with 1MDB were tampered with, and inaccurate facts were subsequently reported by The Edge and Sarawak Report. He also accused The Edge and Sarawak Report of spinning the facts.

Press freedom is a key component of any genuine democracy and is an important tool in holding the government to account. If there are any inaccuracies in media reports regarding those in government or government-owned corporations, these can be countered by those affected. Indeed, media statements by 1MDB responding to allegations have been widely carried in both the print and online media.

If, indeed, inaccurate facts have been published by Malaysian media, these inaccuracies should be revealed. Such inaccuracie, would have to be answered by the media involved and would affect their credibility if found to be true. If the media have disseminated false and harmful information regarding any individuals to their detriment, there are other legal avenues that can be pursued by those individuals.

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To threaten action under the PPPA, without even revealing what these alleged inaccuracies are, is a gross overreaction and threatens media freedom and produces a chilling effect. It is well known that the home minister has the power under the PPPA to revoke or suspend The Edge’s publication licence and prevent them from publishing. This power has been utilised in the past against various print media.

It is disrespectful of press freedom and our democracy for the home minister to make such threats against the press. This is especially so when he has not even revealed the nature of these supposed inaccuracies that have been published.

In any event, it is clear from a perusal of The Edge’s reports regarding 1MDB that they ask broader questions regarding the management and viability of 1MDB. 1MDB is government-owned and its viability and ability to service its billion-ringgit loans is clearly an issue of public interest, which The Edge has been actively covering.

The threat against The Edge in the light of its pertinent questions regarding 1MDB also opens the government to accusations of using its executive powers to silence the media with regards this issue.

CIJ calls on the government to stop issuing vague, unsubstantiated threats against The Edge and Sarawak Report. CIJ also reiterates its call for the PPPA to be abolished and for press freedom to be respected.

Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee are directors of the Centre for Independent Journalism.

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