PETALING JAY, 15 May 2009: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international organisation founded to protect journalists, urged the Malaysian government to revoke oppressive media laws and policies.
CPJ executive director Joel Simon wrote a letter to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to voice the organisation’s concerns about Malaysia’s restricted media environment yesterday.
“We call on you to rescind the renewable licensing system for print publications (Printing Presses and Publications Act or PPPA), which governments typically employ to pressure editors and journalists to soften and self-censor their news coverage.
“CPJ also asks that you move to abolish the ISA (Internal Security Act), Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, and criminal defamation laws — all of which give legal precedence to notions of national security over press freedom,” said Simon in the letter.
He said CPJ welcomed Najib’s recent announcement about reviewing the ISA but added that the above laws have long been applied to undermine media freedom in Malaysia.
“Implementing new policies and amending old laws that promote, rather than restrict, press freedom, would in our view represent genuine reform,” said Simon.
He said Najib “sent a positive signal of reform” when the prime minister acknowledged the media‘s role in articulating diverse political views and building democracy in his speech to the Malaysian Press Institute on 6 April.
However, recent actions of the government, such as the mass arrests of 80 people for illegal assembly and for holding candlelight vigils in support of detained political scientist Wong Chin Huat are worrying, notes the CPJ.
“We were troubled to learn that journalists and press freedom advocates were among those arrested and detained, including Wong Chin Huat, a writer, academic and chairman of the Writer’s Alliance for Media Independence, a prominent local press freedom group,” said Simon.
Additionally, CPJ called on the government to restore its past commitment to a free and open cyberspace in its letter.
CPJ cited the crackdown on Malaysia Today blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin who was detained under ISA in 2008 and continues to face sedition and criminal defamation charges as examples of the Malaysian government backtracking on its commitment to internet freedom.