The Malaysian Bar refers to the recent reports of a security guard in the Urban Transformation Centre (UTC) in Pudu who harassed two reporters from the media outlet The Vibes.
According to reports, the reporters were subjected to verbal intimidation and were obstructed from doing their job while they tried to take photographs and speak to individuals queuing at UTC.
Reporters and journalists serve a pivotal role in our society, and they must be allowed to do their jobs without fear of being intimidated, assaulted and harassed.
Press freedom is a hallmark of a mature democracy – the news carried by them shed light on the workings of our public institutions. A responsible and free press informs us about public affairs and educates us through sparking intellectual debate and discussion, which then facilitates good governance. Press freedom is interconnected with the right and freedom of speech and expression under Article 10 of our Federal Constitution.
Malaysia’s placing in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders plummeted from 101 to 119. This downgrade is a reminder to all Malaysians that freedom of the press is endangered, and far more must be done to ameliorate the situation.
In the incident at UTC Pudu, as seen in the video that has since gone viral, the behaviour of the security guard served no purpose apart from intimidating the members of the press and the public. The press should be permitted to do their job, and open dialogue should not be suppressed.
After the incident, the police decided there was no criminal element in the harassment of the reporters, merely an hour after one of the reporters gave her statement, only to reclassify and investigate the case under section 160 of the Penal Code several days later.
The Malaysian Bar believes that an external oversight body that would hold the police accountable for its behaviour, such as an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) – had it been already established prior to this – could diminish such doubtful hasty decisions being made as seen in this incident, and the media can lodge its complaints directly to the IPCMC, if their reports are mishandled or there is inaction by the police.
The Malaysian Bar firmly supports that press freedom and freedom of expression must be upheld when legitimately exercised in good faith. Such rights cannot be wantonly sacrificed without proper reasoning. As long as proper safety measures are employed, the press must be permitted to do their job and ensure that the public is well informed about matters that concern them.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn is president of the Malaysian Bar
This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.