A group of veteran journalists have warned the government against playing the role of "Big Brother" in the wake of a series of clampdowns and restrictions on media outlets in the country, saying it is a reminder of the practice by past administrations to shut down critics and please political elites.
They said the recent actions by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the internet regulator under the jurisdiction of Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil, point to a worrying sign of the media returning to its former state.
"What is more worrying is the fact that much of the so-called 'offending' content is mere reports and opinion pieces deemed critical of the government.
"We strongly disapprove of any attempt to use government agencies like the MCMC to question, censor, or block portals and online news content," said a joint statement signed by prominent journalists Johan Jaaffar and A Kadir Jasin; former Bernama chairman Azman Ujang; former editors-in-chief of Bernama, Yong Soo Heong and Zakaria Wahab; as well as veteran media activists Hussamuddin Yaacob, Chamil Wariya, and G Manimaran.
The statement comes in the wake of a series of access bans on news portals as well as requests from MCMC to social media platforms to take down contents critical of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's administration.
In June, Fahmi came under fire after news portal MalaysiaNow was blocked for 48 hours. MCMC has not responded to repeated requests for an explanation.
Last month, another current affairs site, UtusanTV, operated by former staff of the now-defunct Utusan Melayu media company, was also blocked.
MCMC was also behind the access bans on the Malaysia Today website run by government critic Raja Petra Kamarudin, as well as a blog specialising in corporate and financial sleaze run by former DAP MP Wee Choo Keong.
In the latest such curbs, MCMC blocked TV Pertiwi, an online news site specialising in short videos and political podcasts. It said the block would be lifted on the condition that the outlet agreed to remove six pieces of news content.
In their statement, the eight veteran journalists reminded government leaders of their promise to allow a free flow of information and a vibrant free press.
It warned against going back to the practice of previous governments, where even the slightest complaint from the public or members of the ruling elite would be acted upon swiftly.
"There have been growing complaints by media practitioners that their sites have been blocked. This is an unhealthy trend that must be stopped immediately.
"We believe that the regulatory body has other priorities, and therefore, blocking websites is not one of them," they added.
They said misinformation on social media was a reality, but the role of fighting it should be played by a free press.
"The government must ensure the right ecosystem and a conducive environment for media practitioners to work without fear or favour."