KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 ― The Home Ministry’s show-cause letter and a sedition investigation by the police against The Star for a publishing “oversight” is disproportionate to the purported offence, the Institute of Journalists (IoJ) said today.
In a statement, the professional body for media practitioners expressed its dismay and deep concern at the actions undertaken by the authorities in summoning and issuing a show-case letter against the local daily for its front page gaffe last Saturday.
“The IoJ is of the view that such heavy handed action is highly disproportionate to the perceived offence, which could arguably boil down to editorial oversight as opposed to any deliberate attempt to sow racial and religious divisions as claimed by critics,” it said.
On May 27, The Star had carried on its front page a photograph of Muslims performing their prayers in Putrajaya, as well as the headline “Malaysian Terrorist Leader” for an unrelated story of a former Universiti Malaya lecturer who was reportedly in line to become the next leader of the Islamic State in the region.
The juxtaposition led to complaints that Muslims were being portrayed negatively.
The IoJ pointed out that the English-language daily has been swift in taking responsibility by suspending two senior editors indefinitely, saying it showed “the paper is willing to take responsibility for whatever transgressions it is seen to have committed, perceived or otherwise”.
It also expressed deep concern over demands for The Star’s publishing licence to be suspended, saying if the move went through, it would mark “yet another nail in the coffin of press freedom in Malaysia”.
“The IoJ repeats its position that the only way forward in promoting a free press is to allow media organisations to decide for themselves how to deal with such issues and to determine their editorial direction, without undue and misplaced pressure from the authorities,” it said.
It reiterated its call for the government to repeal the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which it described as “repressive”.
The IoJ also urged Putrajaya to take proactive measures to protect media freedom in the country and allow news outlets and reporters doing their jobs to operate freely and independently without fear of prosecution.