KUALA LUMPUR – May 6, 2020: Journalists should not be questioned for asking questions. Journalists do not owe allegiance to anyone except to their readers. Press freedom comes with a duty.
These are some of the words spoken by Malaysian journalists and other media personnel who were featured in a Twitter campaign on media freedom by journalist rights group the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).
The campaign was to commemorate World Press Freedom Day 2020 on Sunday.
CIJ executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu said the aim was to get a discussion on the state of media freedom in Malaysia going, particularly the issue concerning the challenges facing media personnel.
“And who better to ask than those working in the media themselves,” Naidu remarked.
“We are also organising a brownbag session with civil society organisations and members of the media later this afternoon to discuss these challenges at length, as well as the role of the media in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and steps needed to support the media during this crisis,” she added.
The campaign came amidst claims of restrictions imposed on the media following the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government in February.
Today, journalist Tashny Sukumaran, a correspondent for South China Morning Post, was questioned by the police over an article on an immigration raid five days ago.
Yesterday, journalists were barred from covering a court case in Putrajaya involving the daughter of a former deputy prime minister.
“It is fundamental that media freedom and freedom of expression as enshrined in our federal Constitution and other international human rights standards are upheld by the current government,” said Naidu.
She argues that whatever restrictions imposed on the media in order to combat the spread of Covid-19 must be legal, necessary, proportionate and temporary.
“As we move towards envisioning a future of strengthened and independent media, we again repeat our call for the need for a transparent and independent self-regulatory body such as the proposed media council,” said Naidu.
The proposal for Malaysia to have this council was first mooted in 1973 during the time of Tun Abdul Razak Hussein as prime minister.
After years of false alarms, in June last year the idea got moving again and some steps again taken in trying to get it going.
Prior to its collapse, the Pakatan government had some discussions with stakeholders and this led to the formation of a pro-tem committee. A framework of a legislative bill was reported to be in the works but nothing much has been known to happen since.