KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 — A coalition of media NGOs and organisations has urged the government to stop harassing journalists and the press for merely carrying out their duties.
Consisting of the Centre for Independent Journalism, Gerakan Media Merdeka and the National Union of Journalists, the coalition expressed its alarm at the frequent use of harassment tactics by the authorities towards the media.
“It is a worrying pattern to see journalists being summoned by the police for their reporting. This year alone, we saw at least five incidents where journalists are being questioned and investigated,” it said in a statement.
The coalition cited these incidents, including the one on Tuesday (May 18) when two Malaysiakini journalists were summoned by the police to give their statements over three articles relating to the death of cow milk trader A. Ganapathy who died while seeking treatment in the hospital after being arrested by the police in early February this year.
“Prior to that on May 10, a Malaysiakini Bahasa Malaysia desk editor and broadcast journalist were also summoned by the police for questioning in relation to their article on former IGP Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador’s allegations during a press conference.
“Specifically, we have seen the following media called in for investigations in the last few months, including the controversial news delivery by Awani’s newsreader on the Awani 745 news programme, the threat by the Gombak police chief to sue Free Malaysia Today over two news articles, and reports lodged against China Press over its coverage on the deputy inspector-general of police’s rape threat remark,” it said.
The coalition argued that the press should not be subjected to being summoned by the government or threatened with action based on articles they publish in their capacity as the media.
“Instead of investigating journalists, authorities should focus on conducting investigations into police misconduct. Harassing journalists for performing their duties is seen as a tactic to stifle press freedom.
“In a recent Reporter Without Borders annual press freedom index report, Malaysia’s press freedom index is now down 18 places at 119, out of 180 countries ranked. For context, Malaysia’s best ranking was just one year ago in 2020, at 101st place,” it said.
Curbing media space and attempting to intimidate media into silence are elements of a failing state, and the coalition reminded the government and its leaders that encouraging an open and effective media serves to improve the environment for long-term social, political, and economic stability.
“This would facilitate the right to seek and exchange ideas, opinions and information that would enable the public to form their own opinions and allow for dissenting or alternative positions.
“Ultimately, it aids in the promotion of good governance and in holding the State and its officials to higher account, which is, no doubt, what is expected of a democratic State,” it said.
The coalition urged the government to stop summoning the media based on their news articles, to drop all investigations against the media, and to initiate an independent inquiry into possible mismanagement of the powers of the authorities in their actions against the media.
“The government should also move ahead with the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry, and to avoid the government from becoming the sole arbiter of truth and deciding what information should and should not be published.
“At a time when the public is struggling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more paramount for the current administration to create an enabling environment that would support free media and focus on sustaining the credibility of the State in the eyes of the public; rather than reinforce the increasing measures to silence dissent or opinions that places the ruling regime in an unfavourable light,” it said.