It is a pity that government officials reportedly declined an invitation from this media outlet to present their case to Malaysian and international audiences, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Six Al Jazeera employees were called in for police investigation under Malaysia’s Penal Code, Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act in the wake of their 25-minute “101 East” investigative documentary, Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.
The documentary alleges there was racism and mistreatment in the detention of undocumented migrants during the enforcement of the movement control order to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Being accused of racism in a world shaken by the #BlackLivesMatter movement is indeed a serious matter. As a result, it sparked an uproar and earned the ire of the Malaysian authorities, who claimed that the documentary was “inaccurate, misleading and unfair”.
The reportage is generally one-sided, which caused many to accuse the broadcasting station of overly siding with the migrants, who, incidentally, are already subjected to xenophobia among Malaysians. A few Malaysians even called the documentary an attempt to “reinvent the truth about Malaysia’s lockdown”.
It is most unfortunate that the documentary is not balanced in the sense that the government’s side of the story is not presented in the report, as is expected of professional journalism.
Apart from the migrant workers, the documentary interviewed civil society organisations and trade associations. There is also a useful account of Good Samaritans among Malaysians.
It is a pity that government officials reportedly declined the invitation from the international media outlet to present their case to the Malaysian as well as international audiences. In fact, it makes viewers wonder why the Malaysian authorities did not take up the offer to tell their side of the story. This has given rise to unnecessary suspicion that something is amiss.
Viewers are now deprived of their right to know the supposed reality that the government wants them to know regarding the detention episode, which can be done by employing facts and figures that it has at its disposal.
Having said that, it is not too late for the government to insist on a right of reply, which is the standard operating procedure for media organisations worth their salt. This is the platform, which Al Jazeera has already offered, to right what is considered wrong or misleading in the reportage.
If this right of reply is not utilised by the government, it would then make us wonder whether future reporting that is deemed “inaccurate, misleading and unfair” would also be subject to similar police investigation.
Al Jazeera also complained about its staff being subjected to sustained online harassment in the form of abusive messages and death threats, which is very disturbing. Journalists should not work with fear or favour.
One instead would expect public response to this reportage of Malaysia, warts and all, to be civil and intellectual in nature in a supposedly democratic society, such as by writing to Al Jazeera and the local press about how they feel about the documentary.
Civilised intellectual exchanges, no matter how different the opinions are, should be encouraged as they are legitimate and constitute freedom of expression as long as they do not incite hate and cause physical harm.