Gerakan Media marah (Geramm) views with concern the various restrictions and near-thuggish ‘manhandling’ of reporters in the ongoing Umno annual general assembly.
Actions of the party secretariat and staffers shows not only contempt of the media, but also a lack of respect of the public’s right to be informed of the goings on in the Malay party which dominates the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Furthermore, it is expressly against the promises of the prime minister, the very astute Umno president Najib Razak himself, who once guaranteed media freedom, like his much celebrated promises to abolish the Emergency Ordinance, the Sedition Act and the Internal Security Act.
Of greatest concern are the ejection of journalists from news portals Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insider from the PWTC on 12 December 2015.
Two party workers wearing ‘Secretariat’ tags approached The Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini reporters in the lobby and ordered them to leave the building under orders from Umno secretary general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor.
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At a press conference later, the secretary general accused the portals’ reporters of stealing party documents, explaining that this was why he ordered them ejected from the premises.
This less-than-cavalier treatment of the media, on top of an existing denial of Umno official passes and facilities during coverage of the general assembly, speaks poorly of the level of transparency and accountability in the Malay party.
There are better ways to approach the matter if theft was really involved: a police report could have been lodged or even an official complaint made or legal action can be taken.
One has to wonder if the party really does have things to hide from the public that it would restrict media coverage of the meet, just like it stopped some of its own leaders from speaking and expelled others less contented with the current party leadership.
While earlier the u-turn spin-around by Tengku Adnan on his initial media ban was welcomed, Geramm notes that the ejection of the journalist is not the first such thing to happen during the Umno AGM.
Non-Muslim reporters were recently banned from covering the launch of the Puteri Umno Dian initiative.
Puteri Umno chief Mas Ermieyati Samsudin had reportedly defended the move as non-Muslim reporters will supposedly not understand the initiative launched.
Geramm contends, however, that giving proper press briefings and explanations is a better way of creating understanding rather then a press banning.
But banning and ejections aside, the safety of media on duty was also compromised during the scuffle with security officers during the first appearance of Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin.
This is something that should not have happened.
Geramm reiterates our view that all political parties should respect the rights to press freedom and not allow the personal agendas of individual leaders to deny the public’s right to information.