Deteriorating press freedom in Malaysia

By Lim Guan Eng

Major chinese dailies "went black" yesterday to mark World Press Freedom Day

Press freedom is essential in any functioning democratic society, is clearly under threat in Malaysia. In the aftermath of the Bersih 3.0 debacle that saw not only innocent protesters but also media workers such as reporters and photographers being manhandled, beaten up and their camera equipment destroyed, there is no doubt that press freedom in our country is deteriorating and getting more restricted.

Earlier this year, there was short-lived joy as Malaysia gained 19 places in the 2011/2012 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders to 122nd place, compared to being ranked 141st in 2010.

In actual fact, we have actually regressed because we were ranked 92nd in 2006, and have merely regained some lost ground. That said, being ranked joint-122nd on the same level as Tajikistan and Algeria is not something we can be proud of. Even Cambodia fared better at rank 117th.

In light of recent events, Malaysia’s ranking is set to take a dive. Nearly 20 reporters and photographers were reported to have been assaulted police during the Bersih 3.0 rally, including The Sun reporter Radzi Razak who was assaulted by up to 15 police officers.

Even reporters from international agency Al-Jazeera were not spared, as they reported Al Jazeera cameraman Ray Jones was punched at the head while Al Jazeera’s correspondent Harry Fawcett was roughed up while they tried to film an officer beating up a protester.

Worse, BBC and Al-Jazeera’s news coverage was censored by Astro for breaching local content regulations. To date, neither the Home Ministry nor Astro has clarified what the local content regulations were.

The fact that the police did indeed beat up members of the media is irrefutable. Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak himself whispered an apology to the Sun reporter Radzi Razak who was warded to hospital after the beating and the Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar apology to another victim of police brutality, Malay Mail reporter Muhammad Ariff.

DAP regrets that the Minister of Home Affairs Datuk Seri Hishamudin Tun Hussein Onn’s stated that the issue must be looked at in the right context because those allegedly beaten by protesters are worse off than those beaten by the police.

Hishamuddin’s statement is shocking as it appears to give police the right to illegally beat up protesters. Whilst DAP supports action against demonstrators who turn violent, action must also taken against violence by policemen on peaceful demonstrators.

The public is sceptical whether the new independent panel set up by the Home Ministry to investigate complaints of police brutality will result in any action when no action is taken by the police on attacks against reporters in July last year at the Penang Bridge and at the anti-Lynas rally at Speaker’s Corner in Esplanade, Penang on 26 February.

In the first incident 2 reporters were attacked last year when covering a demonstration involving UMNO at the Penang Bridge.

A reporter was attacked during the anti-Lynas rally in Penang last month

At an Anti-Lynas rally on 26 February 2012, UMNO and Perkasa members violently attacked and injured two reporters. One of the reporters had to endure 8 stitches to close his injury. Up to now, not a single person has been either arrested or charged by the Penang police.

If even UMNO and Perkasa gangsters are not charged in court for beating up reporters, how can the public hope that the police will charge policemen involved in beating up reporters?

Any talk about transformation and greater freedom has been nothing more than lip-service. Until and unless an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is formed and the Printing Presses and Publications Act abolished, there will never be true press freedom in Malaysia.

The World Press Freedom Day is important for press freedom and all Malaysians to stand in solidarity with not just Malaysians assembling peacefully but also the reporters and photographers who were either beaten, had their cameras taken away or smashed during Bersih 3.0 rally. -The Rocket

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