A bane to press freedom — Sin Chew Daily

JULY 28 — The 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue is gathering more heat now.

The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly, both under The Edge Group, have had their publishing permits suspended for three months by the Home Ministry following their continued pursuit of the 1MDB issue.

This is a follow-up action by the government after it blocked the Sarawak Report site. The move also marked the government’s first action against the print media since the 1MDB scandal first came to light.

The print media was last targeted in the Ops Lalang in 1987, when the publishing permits of Sin Chew Daily, The Star andWatan were simultaneously suspended.

In the 1980s when internet was still out of bounds to majority of Malaysians, information access was rather restricted. It therefore came as no surprise that the government would deliberately threaten to punish newspapers for publishing things it did not like to see.

But in modern-day Malaysia where information is just a click or a tap away, it will be hardly persuasive if the government still resorts to the same old trick to gag the media, especially if the reasons offered are anything but convincing.

The reason given by the Home Ministry for the suspension of the two publications under The Edge Group was that their reports on 1MDB had created negative public perception of the government and had implicated the government and the country’s leader, which was seen as potentially detrimental to public order and national interest.

As such, they were seen as having violated the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

Meanwhile, the 1MDB issue continues to snowball as the public query the whereabouts of billions of ringgit of public funds and the mystery surrounding the US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) purportedly transferred to the PM’s personal bank accounts.

The government has so far not offered an acceptable answer to the allegations and queries, but has instead targeted the media companies revealing the information.

It is natural that such an act has triggered powerful backlash in the media industry and community at large.

The media’s duty is to reveal any act of corruption and abuse of power on the part of the government in a bid to satisfy the public’s right to information while acting as checks and balances to the administration.

If the government feels that The Edge has misled the readers and has committed the serious offense of sedition, then it should come out with powerful evidences to support its claims, or seek legal avenues to penalise the publisher instead of slapping the order to suspend its publications.

Without the slightest doubt the home ministry’s move to suppress dissident voices from the media has severely tramped the freedom of expression in this country, which does not augur well in any way to a country that aspires to join the privileged league of fully developed nations in a couple of years.

Such a restrictive action against the media has drawn widespread attention from the international community, and could as well become an international laughing stock.

It seems that the country’s continuous slide in global press freedom rankings in recent years has not come about unfounded.

Not only should the government withdraw its suspension order, it must also immediately repeal the outdated Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

Only when the media are allowed to effectively discharge their duties as the Fourth Estate will social harmony and national interest be preserved. — TODAY

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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