Reporters’ groups urge PM to free the media

(The Malaysian Insider) – Two Malaysian reporters’  groups have asked Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for a road map on media freedoms over the next two years, noting the Prime Minister has yet to take concrete steps to open up the press.

In commemorating World Press Freedom Day 2009 today, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) said the road map on media freedom for democracy entails an 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 (PPPA) that gives the government arbitrary powers in deciding the terms for publications.

CIJ and WAMI also would like to remind governments that it is high time reforms are put in place involving media and access to information laws.

“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,” CIJ executive director V. Gayathry said in a statement issued yesterday.

“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, who leads WAMI.

They both added that, despite the strong message delivered by voters in the Election 2008 to reject censorship and control of media and information by delivering a blow to Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition has not taken any concrete steps to demonstrate its openness to change.

They cited the latest restriction on Internet media by the BN-led Perak government from its state assembly scheduled on the May 7, saying it was grossly inconsistent with the “1 Malaysia” concept propounded by Najib.

“ We note, worryingly, that despite the rhetoric of openness in 1 Malaysia, the new PM administration is reversing the former PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s recognition of professionally-run Internet media by regularly restricting them from covering official functions,” they said in the joint statement.

Both noted the federal government was “implicitly threatening bloggers and online commentators with the Communication and Multimedia Act and the Internal Security Act”, as Information Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim had said the ministry would take action with those laws against those who criticised the Perak Royal House online.

In their statement, The CIJ-WAMI declared the government should have the following road map:


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.

DEADLINE: AUGUST 2009 (Three 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.

DEADLINE: NOVEMBER 2009 (Six 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 licence or annual publishing permit; (b) and the judicial review is reinstated.

Setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reform

An Inter-Parliamentary 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.

DEADLINE: MAY 2011 (One to two 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.