Najib’s Illusory Transformation (IV):
Violence against Journalists – One Step for Transformation, Two Steps for Arbitrary Power
By William Leong Jee Keen, Member of Parliament, Selayang
In collaboration with
Political Studies for Change (KPRU – Kajian Politik untuk Perubahan), a local research institute as well as a political think tank.
The year 2012 marked the historic act of the journalists wearing black during the World Press Freedom Day to show solidarity with those reporters and photographers who had been assaulted on 28 April 2012. It also marked the day of blatant violence by the ruling regime to commit a large scale daylight robbery of the Rakyat’s right to information despite an amended version of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 or PPPA on the last day of the just concluded Parliament session.
The reviews of the amendments have ranged from the good, on the fence and rejection. The MCA controlled The Star executive director and Group Chief editor Wong Chun Wai called the amendment as a ”strong step forward for the media” whilst Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) chief executive officer, Chamil Wariya welcomed the amendment and hoped that one day would come when the Act would be abolished and National Union of Journalists (NUJ) general secretary V. Anbalagan said the amendments ”appear good” but reiterated that the NUJ stand for the Parliamentary Select Committee to be established to review the Act. On the other hand, The Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ) said the Act should be scrapped and not merely amended. Whilst the amendments are a minor step for the freedom of press, the PPPA should not only be amended, it should be repealed as having press freedom whilst being subjugated to the whims and fancies of a Minister is nothing short of being a puppet.
Pretend Freed media; insincere legislation
The amendment of Section 3(3) is commendable, yet the amended provision seems to have the air of an aesthetic”transformation” that has the same content. The Minister if”he considers desirable” may refuse, revoke or suspend such licence. The former provision stood as follows:-
The Minister may in his absolute discretion grant to any person a
licence to keep for use or use a printing press for such period as may be
specified in the licence and he may in his absolute discretion refuse any
application for such licence or may at any time revoke or suspend such
licence for any period he considers desirable.
The one and only difference between the former and current is the replacement of the terms”in his absolute discretion” with”he considers desirable”. On the surface it seems as the section has been amended but in content wise, it has not differed much from the former provision. Noteworthy, is the failure of the current UMNO-led government in amending Section 8A (1) which criminalises the publication of”false news”. In which Lim Guan Eng was once imprisoned for 10 days in 1994 for reporting a case involving statutory rape by a senior government official.
In other words, when the UMNO- majority Parliament amended the PPPA, they seem to have”forgotten” to repeal Section 8A (1) of the PPPA which denotes that ”Where in any publication there is maliciously published any false news, the printer, publisher, editor and the writer thereof shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand ringgit or to both.”
The failure to repeal that provision is one of many clear signs that the current administrative government has no intention of honouring the rights ensured under the Federal Constitution nor do they have any intention of honouring the fundamental instrument of a democratic state. The current administrative government still has the potent intent to chokehold the reins of the press and threaten it in tightening the chokehold to ensure that the printed press produces news that is in favour of the government and the prime example of this is Utusan Malaysia in which Utusan Malaysia has become nothing but a lackey for the government to print news that places the government in a positive light rather than an power hungry, democratic – allergic administrative government. Indeed, the historical Bersih 3.0 event has shown that major English and Malay newspapers controlled by component parties of Barisan Nasional and their cronies were totally biased in their coverage.
Noting that the UMNO-majority parliament in its haste to pass all eight laws in one night, it would have seemed that the parliament had foregone the need to understand the wants of the people of Malaysia. The parliament in the attempt to regain the support of the Malaysian people amended Section 13B from its former provision:-
No person shall be given an opportunity to be heard with regard to his
application for a licence or permit or relating to the revocation or
suspension of the licence or permit granted to him under this Act.
By substituting it with ”A person who has been granted a licence or permit under this Act shall be given an opportunity to be heard before a decision to revoke or suspend such licence or permit is made under subsection 3(3), 6(2) or 13(1), as the case may be.”
The substitution on one end is a positive change, yet the parliament failed to amend nor repeal Section 13(1) in which it allows the Minister to suspend or revoke licences in which the publication is prejudicial to public order.
If the current administrative Federal Government was even remotely serious in committing to a democratic change in the media industry, the amendment during the recent Parliamentary session would not only end with the twelve amendments. Among the amendments should be repealed is Section 16 (2) of the original act. There is no clear definition as to what is meant by”reasonable ground to believe”. Hence, although the person granted licence has the right to be heard but the authority also has the power to confiscate what material is deemed to be in contravention of printing laws under Section 3. As the right to be heard does not necessarily mean that the person granted licence has the right for his or her publication to be returned back to them as it lies in the discretion of the ”senior authorized officer” to determine as to whether those publication in contravention of Section 3 or not.
Fundamental liberties shorthanded by political mind games
The term ”reasonable ground to believe” is as vague as the fog in the cold weather of the British farmlands during autumn. As proven time and time again, vague terms in the legislation of Malaysia often leads to the abuse, misuse and arbitrary usage of such legislation. In his special Malaysia Day eve speech on 15th September 2011, the Prime Minister, he himself noted that the emphasise shall be in accordance of the Constitution, the rule of law and respect fro basic human rights and individual rights are to be protected. And yet the freedom of speech and expression under Article 9 of the Federal Constitution is shackled to the oppressive and draconian legislation of the PPPA; in which in our perspective is still as shackled as a the reins of horse to its rider and owner. It is ”free” to move but ultimately it is the power of the owner to determine as to whether the horse has acted not in the way that is wanted by the owner and be whipped for that unwanted trot.
Malaysia may have moved 17 spots to 124 surpassing Singapore (135) on the Press Freedom Index for the year 2011/2012 from 2010 but these new laws means nothing if the government continue to allow the PPPA to stay, notwithstanding the amendments made in the recent Parliamentary session. If the government has the remote intention of truly honouring the Federal Constitution, and stay true in its ambition for a democratic country; as per the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is the government by the people, for the people, of people. Emphasis is given to the word ”people” or Rakyat. The selected people or group (government) is just a representative to execute input and command from the below. Then the government must release the reins of the horse and let run free as in its natural state.
Sincere amendments or cheap cosmetic changes?
That being said, the amendments made to the PPPA do not reflect the wants of the people of Malaysia. It does however, reflects the wants of the selected government to dictate the publishment of whatever that portrays them in either the negative or positive light. Thus the minor adjustment made to the PPPA was made to reflect that the current administrative government that is putting a mask by pretending to assume the position of a government that celebrates the fundamental rights to speech and expression whilst gripping the reins on the control to the direction of such speech and expression.
Such controls over the publication of media have often resulted in backfire by the people. Such can be seen in the crackdown against China’s foremost vocal and critical dissident, Ai WeiWei. For years, the government had done what it can to silence the voice of Ai WeiWei. Ai WeiWei has been open to his critique against the Chinese government for its political agendas and so forth, in return, the Chinese government, as recent as January 2012, slapped Ai WeiWei a $2.4million fine for tax evasion in its not-so-subtle attempt to silence Ai WeiWei and his arrest in 2011 and thus prompted an international outcry for the Chinese government mistreatment of the Chinese political dissident, Ai Weiwei.
However, as the Malaysian government has yet to act in such extreme measures to silence vocal critics in Malaysia, it is to be noted that in July 1999, Information Minister Khalil Yaacob announced that opposition parties would be denied access to RTM’s airtime; in March 2000, Editions of both Far Eastern Review Economic Review and Asia Week, which had been chronicling the growing opposition to Mahathir, were held back by government censors; in January 22nd 2003, acting on a complaint by ruling-party officials, a dozen police personnel confiscate 15 computer central processing units at Malaysiakini’s KL office. The list is non-exhaustive. As according to BBC, Malaysia has some of the toughest censorship laws in the world and the recent amendments has done little to change that fact. Astro’s censored version of BBS news coverage on Bersih 3.0 is another recent example to be noted.
The government has lauded itself for giving more freedom to the press in Malaysia following the recent amendments and yet at the same times in as recent as June and July 2010, the Malaysian government has suspended the publication of Suara Keadilan and Era Pakatan for their vocal opposition against the administrative government. Also as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, the UMNO-led government has also been quick to charge political caricaturist Zunar with ”sedition” for having publishing drawing critical of Malaysia’s political and social situation.
Noteworthy of attention is the banning or 17 books by the government in 2010 because according to the government, those books were deemed unsuitable. Also, in 2008, the government banned 11 books about Islam as according to the government, those books have contents that are found to be deviating from the teaching of the Islamic religion. The question is whether those 17 banned books are unsuitable for the Malaysian public or the unsuitable for the viewing of the Malaysian government? Because if it is deemed unsuitable for the reading of the Malaysian public, then the Malaysian has unfortunately patronized intelligence of the Malaysian people.
It is as clear as a bright sunny day that the current administrative government is not acting in the best interest of the people of Malaysia, as the actions if the Malaysian government patronizes the intelligence of the Malaysia people in determining as to whether certain writing is unsuitable for our reading and consumption.
Shackled freedom of the press
The recent amendments made has very little meaning if the government continues in its arbitrary act of cracking down on published media that is critical to their administration. The amendments made may be a positive step for the freedom of press in Malaysia; however, the amendments are mere cosmetic changes if only minor changes are made to it. If the government is honest in its intentions in upholding the democracy in this country, then, instead of amending the PPPA, the government should have repealed it in the recent Parliamentary session but it did not. Thus the changes are mere fishing expedition by the government to gain votes of the people for the upcoming election by not only making aesthetic changes to the PPPA, but also bulldozing eight legislations in one night.