The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is alarmed by and strongly condemns ongoing efforts by the state and its actors to intimidate and persecute Al Jazeera over its critical reporting, the latest being the raid on 4 August by the authorities at the international news agency’s Kuala Lumpur office.
The state is clearly on a rampage against Al Jazeera over its Locked Up In Malaysia’s Lockdown documentary, which has been criticised by state leaders as being inaccurate and malicious over its depiction of Malaysia’s alleged mistreatment of migrant workers during the movement control order imposed to curb Covid-19.
The police, meanwhile, have since announced that similar raids were also carried out at Astro and UnifiTV for featuring the Al Jazeera documentary.
We are appalled that the crackdown on Al Jazeera and those associated with the documentary continues to persist, despite widespread scrutiny and uproar from civil society organisations, politicians and the public. To date, the government has yet to debunk Al Jazeera’s claims with verifiable facts and evidence to demonstrate that fundamental human rights of migrants have not been undermined.
Thus, we reiterate our call for the government to conduct an independent inquiry or investigation into the allegations, as reported in the documentary, and base its course of action on the results of the investigation.
The crackdown against Al Jazeera, coming after the actions taken against Malaysiakini over comments left on one of its stories by its readers, and journalists such as CodeBlue’s Boo Su-Lyn and South China Morning Post’s Tashny Sukamaran over critical publications they authored, is indicative of a deliberate and concerted effort by the state at silencing voices and reporting that are critical or dissenting, and has the potential to paint an adverse picture of the government’s actions.
This is a serious threat to our right to information and freedom of speech and expression. We are deeply concerned that if this practice continues, our democracy will be under threat and political priorities will continue to prevail over the public interest.
We do not wish for Malaysia’s credibility as a reputable state to be undermined at the global level due to these actions that demonstrate a lack of respect for and adherence to well-established international human rights principles and standards on freedom of expression and speech.
As a media watchdog, we are especially concerned that Malaysia’s position on the World Press Freedom Index, which only recently recorded a spike, will go down the ladder with the such actions.
We, therefore, call for the following measures to be adopted by the state and its apparatus:
- Drop all investigations and stop all acts of intimidation and adverse actions against Al Jazeera and related media entities such as Astro and UnifiTV, whistleblowers and others associated with the Al Jazeera documentary
- Promote media freedom and create an enabling environment for the media to function with independence and with no fear of repercussion for carrying out their reporting functions. This would require the commitment of the government to go beyond rhetoric and actually implement the promises and pledges that have been made by the communication and multimedia minister iterating that the current regime will promote media freedom and adopt measures to amend laws that restrict media freedom
- Place a moratorium on the use of repressive laws that the state has committed to amend, including Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Act 1981, among others
- Move ahead with the establishment of the Malaysian media council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry, a call CIJ has made on numerous occasions since the change of government this year. Having a media council in place will prevent the State and its agencies from becoming the sole arbiter of truth or arbitrarily censoring or punishing the media for reporting that is critical of the state
It is incumbent on the government to ensure that they act now and not be complicit in allowing media freedom in Malaysia to go back to the dark days where journalists were censored or penalised for simply doing their job and when media outlets operated within a climate of fear.
Wathshlah G Naidu is executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism