Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the statement made by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on 22 September, in which the commission threatens criminal proceedings under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 against news media which publishes news which is “disrespectful and divisive”, “manipulative”, “misleading” and “disinformation”.
The right to freedom of speech is clearly enshrined in Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution, and the right can only be restricted as provided by the law to the necessary extent as stated in Article 10(2)(a), such as in the interests of security, public order or morality.
Thus, the grounds used by the government such as “disrespectful” and “misleading” content to restrict freedom of speech are an unjustifiable restriction and hence unconstitutional. This is therefore deliberate intimidation and a dangerous assault by the MCMC on media that is critical of the government. Suppressing dissenting and critical press is the hallmark of authoritarian rule.
For MCMC to arbitrarily talk of restricting disrespectful or misleading news shows a complete lack of regard for the law and lack of respect for the Constitution.
Who decides what news is misleading or inaccurate or disrespectful? To allow the government to decide this would set us on the road to dictatorship.
In fact, it is the role of the press to independently hold government to account, while enabling the public to be more informed and engaged in the decisions and policies that affect them. It is certainly not the role of the media in a democratic nation to be “respectful” of the government or the prime minister.
We therefore urge the government to stop using MCMC and other agencies under its power to restrict and curtail content or information critical of the authorities. Should the government deem any reporting as inaccurate or misleading, it would be prudent for the government to rebut it by issuing a public statement and correcting the alleged inaccurate information. What they cannot do is to prosecute or punish or shut down news organisations for publishing “inaccurate” news.
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We call upon the government to uphold the right of the press to report freely and independently on matters of public interest. Instead of trying to stifle the flow of information or to only allow news supportive of the government to flourish, the government should embrace the internet. The duty of the government is not to restrict free speech, but to uphold that right consistent with the Constitution. – LFL
Nabila Khairuddin is a campaign coordinator with Lawyers for Liberty