The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) strongly decries the constant harassment and intimidation by authorities against journalists, with the recent case involving the chief editor of health news portal CodeBlue, Boo Su-Lyn, over an article about hidden Covid cases at the Setia City Convention Centre vaccination centre.
The article published on 18 July had quoted anonymous volunteers at the public vaccination centre and revealed that the management of the centre allegedly did not inform staff about the cases and close contacts, undertake mass testing or issue proper standard operating procedure guidelines.
We believe the investigation against CodeBlue and its chief editor is a form of intimidation that is indicative of a pattern of actions aimed at silencing the media and curtailing the raising of critical questions of public interest.
Furthermore, the right to information reflects the fundamental premise that all information held by the state and related governmental institutions is, in principle, public and may only be withheld or have restricted access if there are legitimate reasons for not disclosing it, such as for purposes of state security or privacy.
We call on the government to be accountable, open and transparent in its disclosure of information that is of public interest. This is crucial now more than ever with the pandemic and with greater concerns around actions taken to mitigate the spread of Covid and vaccination efforts by the state. Our right to access crucial public information must be a given. It should not be arbitrarily restricted.
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We strongly disagree with the investigation initiated by the authorities and call on the state to drop their investigations into CodeBlue and Su-Lyn at once. Investigate the allegations – not the journalists or sources!
We acknowledge the government’s responsibility and efforts to maintain public order when dealing with serious public health issues such as the Covid crisis. The government must educate, inform and warn the public, as necessary, and we note that the Ministry of Health has made reasonable attempts in providing the public with important information, including using social media channels.
In these circumstances, the government and key political leaders will undoubtedly come under intense scrutiny and must withstand critique, differences of ideas and dissenting opinions as well as the increased demand for greater information transparency.
At the same time, the media has a key role to play in refraining from and preventing the perpetuation of misinformation and disinformation by channelling fact-based news in a timely and analytical manner, including updates by public authorities during this public health crisis. This is critical in countering any myths or misleading facts on the spread of the virus or related state measures.
Therefore, the government should be proactive in responding to allegations and claims highlighted by the media – and not restrict and punish the media for doing its critical reporting job.
Wathshlah G Naidu is executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism