Malaysia's Sorry Record on Press Freedom
Malaysia's Barisan Nasional, or national ruling coalition, has gone to extreme ends to control freedom of expression and monopolize the dissemination of information, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based Center for Independent Journalism.
The NGO's report, released Tuesday, says the Barisan "adopted a multi-pronged approach, using the myriad of laws at its disposal to curb expression. The Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 was used to intimidate The Star, China Press and Special Weekly, among others."
A summary of the report, furnished by the center, follows. It is the fourth such report the organization has released.
These publications were issued show-cause letters over various issues, from a cartoon depicting Prime Minister Najib Razak as Mr U-Turn to a commentary on the whipping of women under shariah law. The newspapers were pressured to apologize or make changes to their editorial teams to avoid the risk of losing their printing permits.
Books were also banned and seized under the PPPA, ostensibly to protect public order and morality. Among the banned and seized books were cartoonist Zunar's 1Funny Malaysia, Perak Darul Kartun, Isu Dalam Kartun and Cartoon-O-Phobia. Zunar himself was arrested for sedition on the day of Cartoon-O-Phobia's launch, although later released. Also banned was Kim Quek's March to Putrajaya, which was then released free online.
Government control also extended to the broadcast media. ntv7 producer Joshua Wong resigned in protest, saying his bosses had received text messages from the Prime Minister's Department, complaining about his show Editor's Time's content. RTM producer Chou Z Lam also exposed content interference, saying that a documentary on Sarawak's Bakun Dam was cancelled after only two out of nine episodes had aired.
Shortly after Chou's exposé, his contract with RTM was terminated. On radio, disk jockey Jamaluddin Ibrahim was sacked along with two other Star RFM employees. This occurred after Jamaluddin interviewed a gay pastor on race and relations and opposition Democratic Action Party secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng on his radio show.
The government has stepped up its efforts to control the internet. The public are constantly reminded how Malaysia's many repressive laws such as the Sedition Act are applicable online. The home minister announced the setting up of a "special unit" to monitor the internet, especially for postings that could ignite racial tension and cause disunity. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) formed a special team with the police to handle threats to national security and unity in cyberspace. Meanwhile, special guidelines have been drafted to explain the reach of the
Sedition Act and the PPPA online.
The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 was also used as a tool against expression online. Malaysiakini and Malaysia Chronicle were investigated for their news reports on Najib's opening speech at the Umno general assembly. Blogger Irwan Abdul Rahman was charged for a satirical post on Tenaga Nasional Berhad. Rocky's Bru blogger Ahirudin Atan was quizzed for his posting of rumours of lucrative Information Ministry contracts involving a minister's son.
Arrests and harassment under the Sedition Act also continued. Those arrested include blogger Aduka Taruna and PKR supreme council member Badrul Hisham (known as Chegubard) for postings on royalty. Wee Meng Chee (known as Namewee) was questioned for a YouTube video criticising a principal's alleged racist remarks. MCA president Chua Soi Lek and PKR's Nurul Izzah Anwar were questioned over remarks about bumiputera corporate equity and the constitution's Article 153 respectively. A "special team" was set up to investigate Penang imams apparently praying for Lim Guan Eng instead of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. And police reports were lodged against MyConstitution which aims to educate people about the constitution's principles; and against a Shah Alam church for planning to stage a play at the Shah Alam Convention Center during the fasting month.
Najib recently said that "the government has no monopoly over information and the dissemination of information". With the many creative ways in which Malaysians are expressing themselves – whether online, through flash mobs, "cake parties" or open letters, it is clear that it will be impossible for the BN to control everything that is being said about it. But although absolute control of information may not be within its grasp, the BN federal government has certainly demonstrated that it is not willing to relinquish whatever control it still has. And as discussions persist over whether to extend the reach of the PPPA online, it is equally clear that the government will try to extend its control as far as it can in the coming year.