Al Jazeera to Astro: Explain the ‘breach’

Middle East-owned news station Al Jazeera is demanding to know what ‘local content regulations that Astro was forced to ‘comply’ with given there was ‘no communication’ on the issue with Al Jazeera. 

Pushparani Thilaganathan, Free Malaysia Today 

Satellite broadcasting station, Astro, which recently won the Putra Award for Best Brand, has just earned itself a slew of public insults over its high-handed “editing” of British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) and Al Jazeera stations’ news coverage of the Bersih 3.0 rally last Saturday.

While public comments running on the worldwide web have been spewing venom at Astro’s stand to “bow before Umno-BN policies”, Middle East-owned television station, Al Jazeera, is not going to take this “intrusion” into its “editorial process” lying down.

On the back of World Press Freedom Day celebrations today, Al Jazeera in a statement said: “Our news report was a factual account of events that day, and intrusion in our editorial process is unwarranted.

“We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world.”

Astro had allegedly snipped off parts of Al Jazeera’s news coverage of the Bersih rally by its onground reporter Harry Fawcett.

Al Jazeera said they will be “asking Astro for an explanation” as to why Fawcett’s report of the rally was allegedly censored.

“If Astro is indeed saying that it breached local content regulations, it would need to outline exactly what these alleged breaches were and how it arrived at its decision,” the statement said.

It also noted that the “censoring was not made clear to viewers when it happened” and that Al Jazeera was not notified of the incident by Astro.

Earlier, BBC had demanded that Astro explain itself after it was reported that the Malaysian station had edited out 30 seconds of BBC senior reporter Emily Buchanan’s two-minute news clip of the rally which turned violent after Bersih had called for the crowd to disperse.

Three frames sequences were taken off from the BBC clip in the doctored version. Among them were one sequence showing a policeman allegedly firing at demonstrators.

BBC-Astro warpath

The other two sequences were interviews with demonstrators who gave first-hand accounts of why they took to the streets demanding for clean and fair elections.

In a terse demand note to Astro, BBC “strongly” condemned “any blocking of the trusted news that we broadcast around the world including via distribution partners”.

However, BBC’s affront which was articulated on Sarawak Report (SR) was trivialised by Astro and Malaysia’s Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim.

Rais, who incidentally described the Bersih rally as “kotor” (dirty), defended Astro’s right, saying it was the satellite television’s prerogative to air the “best parts” of the poll reforms rally.

Said Rais: “(Astro) has to be given credit for knowing which part of the news is newsworthy and therefore they should exercise that within their rights as a broadcasting firm.”

Astro, meanwhile, simply said they had to “comply with local content regulations”.

Said Astro’s senior vice-president for Broadcast Operations, Rohaizad Mohamad: “As a licensed broadcaster, Astro is required to comply with the national content regulations.

“When it comes to international content providers, Astro reserves the right to edit its international channels for the purposes of complying with the content regulations.”

Astro’s comment was in response to BBC’s demand letter which “condemned” Astro’s censorship of its news clip.

Astro’s response will no doubt put it on a warpath with BBC, which is already smarting with embarrassment over an earlier issue involving London-based FBC Media Ltd and several paid-for public relations spins on Malaysia and its leadership, which were passed off as genuine documentaries and aired over BBC’s World News.