Media group claims ministry’s licensing review of Al Jazeera infringement of press freedom

Saifuddin had warned that the government will cancel Al Jazeera’s licence and accreditation facilities if the broadcaster was found to have violated the rules. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Saifuddin had warned that the government will cancel Al Jazeera’s licence and accreditation facilities if the broadcaster was found to have violated the rules. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemned today the Communications and Multimedia Ministry’s plan to review Al Jazeera’s accreditation and production licence over its controversial documentary Locked Up In Malaysia’s Lockdown.

CIJ called the move “alarming” and a form of state retaliation against the Qatar-based broadcaster for allegedly damaging Malaysia’s reputation.

“The State and its apparatus must also stop penalising the views of interviewees in the Al Jazeera documentary — a right that is enshrined in law and international human rights instruments relating to freedom of expression.

“We also urge the government to drop all investigations into Al Jazeera and for

the Communication and Multimedia Minister to support media independence and freedom of the press — not be complicit in infringements on the right to information and freedom of expression,” it said in a statement.

CIJ was responding to yesterday’s announcement by Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah that the Information Department will be checking to see if Al Jazeera violated its accreditation conditions set by the National Film Development Corporation in teh production of the documentary.

Saifuddin warned that the government will cancel Al Jazeera’s licence and accreditation facilities if the broadcaster was found to have violated the rules.

CIJ decried the government’s management of the controversy, pointing out that it should counter the allegations in the documentary with verifiable facts and data instead of employing heavy-handed tactics initiating police investigations under the sedition law, communications and multimedia offences and criminal laws.

It claimed such an approach undermines press freedom in Malaysia, which would only hurt the country’s international standing further.

“This is all the more appalling as it comes just months after Malaysia recorded a jump on the World Press Freedom Index and further adding on to the list of freedom of expression

infringements since the change of government this year,” it said.

“Merely branding the Al Jazeera documentary as misleading or inaccurate does not

count, and is, frankly, a counterproductive and irresponsible way of setting the record straight,” it added.

CIJ urged the minister to establish the Malaysian Media Council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry rather than act as the sole arbiter of truth.

Al Jazeera’s 101 East segment titled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown on July 3 highlighted criticism by human rights groups who accused immigration authorities of serious violations and mistreatment when raids were conducted in red zones in Kuala Lumpur during the movement control order.

Ministers, the Immigration Department, and the police had all reacted to the documentary, with Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob demanding an apology from the news agency.

The Immigration’s director-general Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud had then warned that foreigner nationals making negative statements about Malaysia could see their passes revoked, a day before his department released the Bangladeshi’s complete details seeking public assistance to locate him.

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