Malaysia - Archive

Second half 2011

edited by Alastair Carthew and Simon Winkelmann

A vow by the prime minister to abolish two harsh security related laws, including a media law; a government directive to broadcasters not to air a video promoting voting for the general election; a call for a Right to Information Act to be introduced; controversy over an apparent anti-Jewish bias by a government linked newspaper; the arrest of a well known blogger; a defamation case against a political blogger; the death of a Malaysian cameraman in Somalia and the finding of a lost man through social media. All contributed to Malaysia’s mixed media in the second half of the year.

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s promise of legal reforms included abolishing the Printing Presses and Publishing Act, which would mean newspapers not having to reapply annually for permission to publish. Previously the Home Ministry had sole discretion over whether to renew newspapers’ operating licenses. Its decision could not be legally appealed. Other laws that threaten journalist freedom are the Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) issuing of a directive to broadcasters not to air a video promoting voting in the general election, drew criticism from the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and others. The letter to broadcasting companies Media Prima and Astro was given under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 which governs the multimedia and communications industry. The ban was on a public service announcement urging members of Parliament, or rakyat, to vote.

The CIJ also campaigned for a new Right to Information (RTI) law as a check and balance “to keep government clean and accountable to the rakyat.” The RTI urged the Prime Minister Najib Razak to introduce the legislation at a federal level to replace the Official Secrets Act. The PM had promised a “democratisation” process in Malaysia.

In July, the Malay language daily newspaper Utusan Malaya said in an editorial that Malaysians “cannot allow anyone, especially Jews, to interfere secretly in this country’s business.” Utusan Malaysia is a government linked publication. According to The Vicious Babushka, a Jewish blog site, the editorial was the latest effort by the newspaper to defend a government crackdown on around 20,000 people who marked in Kuala Lumpur on 9 July demanding more transparency in electoral laws ahead of national polls widely expected by mid-2012.

Also in the second half of the year, the police investigated a Professor named Dr Abdul Aziz Bari and the media organisation Malaysiakini over the news website’s report of Dr Aziz’s statement raising issues about a sultan’s decree regarding a controversial raid on a Methodist church. In July, it was revealed that controversial blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin was arrested under the Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial. The Home Minister said Kamaruddin was detained under 73[1] of the ISA, because he was deemed a threat to security, peace and order. Kamaruddin is alleged to have ridiculed Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in one of his posts. He is a well known critic of the government.

In July, also, another opposition blogger, Amizudin Ahmat, was ordered to pay a large amount in damages and costs in a defamation suit brought by the Minister of Information, Communications and Culture, Rais Yatim over a blog suggesting he raped his Indonesian maid. Amizudin had apologised for making a mistake and removed the offending blog from his website.

In September, Malaysian cameraman Noramfaizul Mohd Nor was shot dead, allegedly by African Union peacekeepers who fired on the convoy he was in in Somalia. Mr Nor was heading to the outskirts of Mogadishu to cover a Malay sponsored project to help drought victims. He worked for Malaysia’s national news agency, Bernama.

Social media played a large role in August in helping to find a young American who went missing in the Malaysian mountains for about a week. When his parents contacted US and German consular officials in Malaysia and sent e-mails to 12 of Jacob Boehm’s friends, the message went viral on Facebook and Twitter. Information was circulated via Twitter and Reddit. Malaysians joined with Americans. Twenty-one hours after the first posting on Facebook Mr Boehm was found in a park.

Malaysia is 141st on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index 2010. It had 16.9 million Internet users at March, 2011 and 11.2 million Facebook subscribers.