MEDIA freedom and the right of the rakyat to exercise their freedom of expression that came alive during the 22-month reign of Pakatan Harapan (PH) is, unfortunately, going down the drain now. Recent drastic actions against by the authorities on the media seem to have taken several strides backwards.
The recent series of assault on certain media organisations by the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), in particular on the investigative documentary Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown by international TV station Al Jazeera, first raised several eyebrows. Instead of the government responding intellectually with facts and figures, the journalists were subjected to hours of questioning by the police.
Soon after that, the MCMC imposed a fine on satellite TV station Astro for airing the documentary Murder in Malaysia more than five years ago! This documentary merely detailed the October 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, and questioned whether there was a link to then prime minister Najib Razak.
As if this was not enough, the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) got into the act by declaring Al Jazeera did not obtain a permit to produce this film. This is indeed preposterous, as the network is a locally constituted company under the Registrar of Companies, which was allowed to operate like any other local TV stations. I was told that this has not been a requirement for the last 14 years they have been operating in Malaysia! Does this mean TV3, Bernama TV, RTM and other local broadcasters need to obtain Finas clearance for their short news documentaries as well? This, to me, sounds absolutely ridiculous.
These acts are seriously undermining the independence, freedom and professionalism of TV stations, such as Al Jazeera and other media, in producing and airing programmes of global standards. In my opinion, these attempts are a way of instilling fear into foreign journalists who report on issues as they are without a government spin.
Police are investigating Al Jazeera for allegedly breaching Section 22 (1) of the Finas Act 1981 (Amendment 2013) for carrying out film production activities without a valid licence from Finas. It is also being investigated for sedition and improper use of network facilities.
On top of that, on July 12, a week after the documentary was aired, the Immigration Department also cancelled the work visa of Bangladesh citizen Md Rayhan Kabir, 25, who had in the film alleged mistreatment against migrants by the Malaysian authorities.
I have watched the documentary film Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.
I am pretty impressed with the content of the documentary as it presented the way the police and Immigration Department handled illegal migrants in a comprehensive manner. The Al Jazeera reporter also specified that several attempts to get the home minister or any of his deputies were declined. If only they had responded, the story would have been different.
If the Perikatan Nasional government doesn’t agree with the content of the documentary, it can always clarify it and tell the truth. I am sure the network would have given the airtime. The government instead chose to persecute the station and its journalists.
I am also concerned that the authorities have failed to act on the numerous death threats 101 East journalists have received from Malaysians incensed by what they perceived to be a negative portrayal of the country. Why did the police not act on these social media monsters who have violated our laws?
Today, it was reported that the MCMC has compounded Astro, the satellite television provider, because it re-aired the documentary Murder in Malaysia, which detailed the murder of Altantuya on Astro’s Channel 153. Astro was accused of airing a programme deemed “indecent” (jelik) and in breach of Section 211 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
The high-handedness of the police and MCMC on the crew who produced the Al Jazeera documentary and the compound slapped on Astro has certainly tarnished the image of the PN government internationally.
In this context, I urge the government to actually look into allegations of mistreatment of foreign workers. Many civil society bodies and elected representatives have questioned the way the government handled migrant workers during the MCO period.
Instead of giving proper explanations on various accusations against the police and Immigration Department, the PN government chose to take action against journalists. The question Malaysians are asking is whether Malaysia is going back to the old ways to suppress and clamp down on the media.
This appears to be the direction of PN and, sadly, ministers in PN and those who were in the PH cabinet are guilty of this destruction. Unless right-thinking Malaysians and those who cherish freedom and a healthy democracy stand up and be counted, we will slip down further in the Media Freedom Index soon. – July 22, 2020.
* Teresa Kok is Seputeh MP and former primary industries minister.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.