PETALING JAYA, 4 June 2009: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has opposed calls to suspend Utusan Malaysia or charge its writers with the Sedition Act.
“Freedom of expression thrives in an environment where members of the public are free to agree and disagree among themselves, instead of censuring each other with restrictive laws,” said CIJ executive director V Gayathry in a statement today.
CIJ was responding to calls by MIC president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu to charge the writer of the Awang Selamat column in Utusan Malaysia under the Sedition Act.
On 31 May, Utusan Malaysia published Melayu dikhianati under the Awang Selamat pen name. The column expressed hurt at “the demands of various non-Malay (Malaysian) groups”, and described Chinese Malaysian and Indian Malaysian communities as “kaum pendatang”.
The column drew strong criticism from both Samy Vellu as well as former de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
“Statements such as Samy Vellu’s reveal a reflexive tendency to stop discussion about race relations,” Gayathry said, adding that the biggest Indian Malaysian political party should instead be playing a moderating role in such a discussion.
Gayathry stressed that open and civil discussions on race and religion were instrumental for nation building.
“But to ban certain views, especially by giving absolute powers to the state to censor, is a grave violation of freedom of expression,” Gayathry added, reiterating CIJ’s stand that restrictive laws on freedom of expression be repealed.
“We call on all political leaders and opinion leaders to emphasise the importance of dialogue and debates and refrain from demanding for the use of undemocratic laws,” Gayathry said.
She urged Utusan Malaysia editors to create spaces in the Malay-language daily for those with differing views and opinions on the issue, and show that it was interested in constructive engagement.
Steven Ong says
V Gayathry, if you want to defend the freedom of journalists, then you as the head of CIJ must ensure the correctness of every piece of news. Or else are you not defending misinformation and lies?
[Editor’s note: While there were factual inaccuracies in CIJ’s original statement, the organisation took immediate steps to send out a correction and apology once their mistake was pointed out to them. The Nut Graph can attest to this happening.
The willingness to be held accountable and to make public corrections are part and parcel of being honest, accurate and fair.]
Yes, let’s grow up.
Andrew I says
Agreed. No suspension. We like the word pendatang. Let’s fling it about like how the African Americans address each other: Yo, nigger.
Yo, pendatang. That’s how I address my friends these days.
Gayathry, do you know that there “sensitive issues” which will breakdown the delicate fabric of 1Malaysia race relations? Gayathry, you are a learned journalist and should know the contents of the Federal Constitution. Any word uttered with bad and sensitive “racial connotations” should be viewed seditious. How is it that you condone such racialistic utterances made by ‘Awang Selamat’?
Samy Vellu is actually attempting to ‘cool down’ the situation by asking the govt, which he is a party to, to eradicate such elements from our 1Malaysia society.
I say we need to encourage Utusan, they have to keep up the good work. It never fails to crack me up reading Utusan. Go Utusan!
Arion Yeow says
It is wrong to try to silence Awang Selamat or bar the Utusan reporter from the MBSP press conference. Free speech includes the right to write disagreeable articles. Awang Selamat has the right to express himself just as I have the right to say his articles are nonsense and Utusan is not worth the toilet paper it is printed on.
I read the article and realize what a subtle yet powerful article this is. CIJ is correct, we should not censor the article or such articles, but instead should have open dialogue. Why not organisize a public discussion on this issue. At heart of course, we should all realize the issue is not over ethnicity, so let’s dig deeper and find out what this is all really about.
Nicholas Aw says
I would agree with the CIJ’s call not to ban Utusan Malaysia as this will not really solve the problem.
A better form of action would be for the government to take action and charge those directly responsible using the appropriate laws of the country. The rakyat too could show protest by boycotting the Utusan Malaysia.
Another effective way is to publicise by word of mouth and through the blogging community Utusan Malaysia’s “playing with fire”. In this way we would be able to get more people to boycott this newspaper and make them realise that their action is unacceptable in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.