CIJ calls for more access to information, freedom of expression

Press - file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

KUCHING, May 3: The government has been told to respect the freedom of expression of the media and not limit information access to certain organisations.

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director, Wathshlah G Naidu, said it is fundamental that media freedom and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution and other international human rights standards, are upheld by the current government.

This includes promoting informed debates as fundamental to inform decision-making.

Critical views must not be censored or criminalised, especially in times of battling the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak and with a new government in power.

“Since coming into power and increasingly so during the Covid-19 pandemic, the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s attempts at silencing dissenting voices and undermining media freedom is signalling the downwards spiral of Malaysia into an inconceivable authoritarian and undemocratic regime.

“Censorship and attempts to control the public narrative are rife based on recent statements from the new government threatening to take stern actions against online news portals that ‘misreport’ the news and define what ‘fake news’ is.

“Threats such as these could lead to misguided and disproportionate actions being taken against media institutions and reporters, which could not only be counter-productive in shutting down the flow of information and related public discourse that is crucial in dealing with public health issues,” she said in a statement issued in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day.

Naidu added that this inadvertently leads to the media self-censoring and toeing the government’s line, so as to retain its licence and its market, thus interfering with media independence and media freedom.

“We have already seen reporters experiencing racists and gender-based harassment online for their reporting, including a Malaysiakini reporter and Channel News Asia (CNA) journalist.

“Besides, a journalist from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) was notified by the police that she is to be called in for questioning under Section 504 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA for her recent article and related tweets on the mass arrests of migrants, allegedly undocumented, in a red-zone in Kuala Lumpur,” she continued.

She deemed this as a move to silence critical media attempting to publish actions by public authorities, which may be viewed as a breach of international human rights commitments.

She said the media industry was already experiencing a shrinking of spaces to report independently due to restricted or denial of access.

In a number of instances, she alleged that access to certain press conferences by ministers providing Covid-19 related updates was limited to just a few “official media”.

Naidu said on April 7, the Prime Minister’s Department issued an official media invitation to a press conference following a special ministerial meeting on the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) but limited the access to Bernama and Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) only.

“This trend of restricting and allowing access to only government media agencies creates a situation that only one-sided news or perception will be available for the public’s consumption,” she opined.

She that the government of the day should also move towards enacting a right to information law and repealing or amending repressive laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), the Official Secrets Act (OSA), the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act (CMA) so that these laws are not utilised arbitrarily to stifle all manner of speech.

She added that reporters, editors and publishers must collectively be responsible and aware of the growing sophistication of disinformation tactics, including fraudulent sources, faux experts, inauthentic social media accounts, corrupted datasets and fake publications that aim to promote certain rhetoric, political agenda or propaganda. — DayakDaily