Producer Quits Malaysian Show, Alleging Interference

Joshua Wong, the producer of a popular Malaysian current affairs program "Editor's Time" resigned earlier this week, charging that the NTV7 channel, which is controlled by the United Malays National Organisation, buckled under from complaints from the Prime Minister's Department and Rosmah Mansor, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's wife.

NTV7 is owned by Media Prima Group, which also owns Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Bhd, the New Straits Times Press, the Malay Mail and the Malay-language Berita Harian and other publications. Media Prima claims it controls roughly half of all Malaysian television viewership, as well as 50 percent of the newspaper market share in the country.

In a publish statement issued to the independent website Malaysiakini, Wong said he had resigned on Nov. 20 because "I am dissatisfied on the way the company has handled two complaints which came from the Prime Minister's Department and the First Lady (Rosmah Mansor). The complaints came after the airing the program's Kuala Lumpur roadshow (March 19) and Penang roadshow (April 8). The company, without conducting due investigation, set unreasonable restrictions for the talk show on the issues to be discussed as well as those to be invited as panel speakers. "

Apparently on orders, Wong said, the show was not allowed to discuss political issues, opposition leaders could not be invited and a show was pulled discussing the 'Hulu Selangor by-election' which is set to go forward on Sunday

"These restrictions are not justifiable," Wong said."They have threatened the independence of my job as producer. It is also a form of self-censorship, which is against the principal of fair and independent reporting. These restrictions have seriously affected the professionalism of the producing team."

The first complaint was made on March 19 in a text message from an anonymous official in the Prime Minister's Department, Wong said, which did not make sense and was full of racial remarks. "Without finding out more about it, the company threatened to cease the production and demand my explanation."

Wong and his superior urged the station to lodge a police report over the message, but instead, the company ordered that the talk show be prohibited from discussing political issues. When he suggested that Tony Pua, an opposition member of parliament, be a guest speaker to talk about Najib's New Economic Model on an April15 show, "my direct superior Tan Boon Kooi told me this: ‘If you invite Tony Pua, then this production will cease.' He also told me that from now on, no opposition party member can be invited to the talk show."

When Wong scheduled a show on the upcoming by-election, he said, the general manager, Sofwan Mahmood, said it was not advisable as the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition, "had faced a major blow in its selection of the candidate for the by-election, and the show would embarrass Najib Razak's administration."

After another occasion, he said, after broadcasting a political show on Penang, his immediate superior called him in said "'On Monday, the First Lady complained about your Penang roadshow - all the way from Washington... I hope you will change the topic.'" I later found that the First Lady had received complaints from other people, and she re-directed the complaint to the top management."

The complaints basically left the public affairs show, whose aim was to discuss current issues, with no current issues to discuss.

"As long as the analysis is balanced, objective, and not tilted to one side, I believe that the show can, and will, result in an in-depth and meaningful discussion. We do not need to over-react on a totally unreasonable complaint, or impose such high level of self-censorship and stop discussing about the by-election altogether," he wrote.