Whatever happened to Selangor’s freedom of information law? Civil societies ask Shah Alam council after barring media from community hearing

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director Wathshlah G Naidu called out MBSA for running afoul of the state law meant to safeguard government transparency in matters of public interest and demanded the council explain its action. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director Wathshlah G Naidu called out MBSA for running afoul of the state law meant to safeguard government transparency in matters of public interest and demanded the council explain its action. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 8 — Two civil societies today condemned the Shah Alam City Council  (MBSA) for refusing to allow media coverage of an objection hearing for its 2021-2035 draft local plan, saying the decision was a clear breach of the Freedom of Information (State of Selangor) Enactment 2011.

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director Wathshlah G Naidu called out MBSA for running afoul of the state law meant to safeguard government transparency in matters of public interest and demanded the council explain its action.

“This clearly contravenes the Freedom of Information (State of Selangor) Enactment 2011 which is meant to enhance disclosure of information for the public interest, to provide to every individual a reasonable right of access to information made by every department of the state government and to promote transparency and accountability for each department in the state government.

“Access to hearing and reporting matters of public interest is fundamental to the role of media to function without unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions as it challenges media freedom and impacts the public’s right to information,” she said in a statement.

News portal Malaysiakini reported earlier today that journalists covering the event were stopped when they tried to enter the briefing room in Wisma MBSA in Shah Alam and told that admission was by invitation only.

Invitations were only extended to residents and other members of the public who lodged formal objections to the draft plan that included a proposal to rezone Rimba Komuniti Shah Alam.

MBSA officials also directed the media to give up their recording equipment and warned residents who tried to record the hearing for the media that these were not to be reported.

Selangor state executive councillor in charge of local government, public transport and new village development Ng Sze Han was also quoted saying the objection hearing was a private event.

CIJ said the aforementioned measures further impacted the larger public’s ability to constructively participate in any debate or discussions related to decision-making processes on the Rimba Komuniti Shah Alam, before urging MBSA to provide clear justification on why it is restricting disclosure of information related to a public hearing.

“The city council must do better in upholding the freedom for the media to report on any public hearings as means of ensuring transparency and enhancing participatory democracy and good governance,” they said.

Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) said it regretted yet another incident where media practitioners were barred from providing coverage without a reasonable explanation.

Geramm also expressed grave concerns that the incident took place under a state government formed by a coalition of political parties that fought for media freedom during the election.

“Geramm demands an explanation why a ‘public’ hearing needs to be done behind closed doors.

“Selangor is also a state enforcing the Freedom of Information Enactment since 2011 and we believe that the restrictions imposed on media is against the said principle,” they said in a statement.

The Shah Alam Community Forest Society, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the conservation of the forest, said the public hearing today was concluded with no decision reached on the development of the forest.

MBSA previously carried out a public feedback exercise for their 2035 local plan draft, which included a proposal to build a road across the existing forested land, also known to the local community as the Shah Alam Community Forest (SACF).

MBSA had also planned to turn the natural lowland rainforest with hardwood trees — that was reportedly designated as “Tanah Kerajaan” (government land) — into a cemetery.

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