KUALA LUMPUR, July 13 ― The government’s decision to investigate news portal Malaysiakini over its report on Dr Zakir Naik linking the Muslim preacher to terrorism is a threat to press freedom, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) said.
SEAPA executive director Ed Legaspi said Malaysiakini had the prerogative to choose which news reports to republish based on relevance to readers, after Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak said Malaysiakini would be probed over its article citing a report from Bangladeshi English-language newspaper, The Daily Star.
“At the outset, I must say that the minister being unspecific about ‘which offence had been committed by Malaysiakini that merited an investigation’ makes it difficult to comment in greater.
“But then again, the broadness of the intention to investigate is in fact a threat to freedom of the press and a cause of great concern,” Legaspi told Malay Mail Online.
Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia reported Monday Salleh as saying that the ministry would investigate and take action against Malaysiakini over its pick up of The Daily Star report and readers’ comments that Utusan described as “rude” and that allegedly “offended Muslim sensitivities”.
When contacted by Malay Mail Online, Salleh did not specify what offence Malaysiakini had allegedly committed and merely said he has asked the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to “investigate complaints regarding Malaysiakini as mentioned by Utusan”.
“We certainly hope the Communications and Multimedia Minister does not push through with investigating Malaysiakini for republishing an international news report about Zakir Naik, even though it might be controversial to some sectors,” Legaspi said.
He asserted that instead of giving in to pressure from certain quarters, as a government official, Salleh must work to serve in the best interest of the country as a whole and not for a select group.
“As minister in charge of the media, he must also understand and promote the role of the media industry to serve as a mirror to society and raise issues important to the public interest and concerns, which in many cases may involve provocative content,” Legaspi added.
Salleh’s remarks came following pressure from Islamist and Malay groups such as Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM), Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) and Perkasa for a strong response against so-called insults against Islam.
The Daily Star reported that Rohan Imtiaz and Nibras Islam, two of the militants behind a recent terror attack in Dhaka that killed 22, were social media followers of Dr Zakir.
The report said Rohan had posted on Facebook last year quoting the Mumbai-based televangelist as “urging all Muslims to be terrorists”.
Dr Zakir is under investigation in India and Bangladesh, while his Peace TV channel was banned in the latter after the siege on a cafe in Dhaka.