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Global media watchdog slams Malaysia's press clampdown

Reporters Without Borders urges Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil to put an end to such acts of censorship.

Staff Writers
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Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil. Photo: Bernama
Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil. Photo: Bernama

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) today denounced the move by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to block several news sites that had published content critical of the government, urging the communications and digital ministry to put an end to such acts of censorship.

"RSF is very concerned by this wave of suspensions by Malaysian authorities, without any explanations nor judicial control, of news websites critical of the government.

"We urge Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil to put an end to these acts of censorship, which can only have a negative impact on Malaysia's democracy," RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau director Cedric Alviani said in a statement.

On Aug 29, a group of senior journalists warned the commission 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 was a reminder of the practice by past administrations to shut down critics and please the political elites.

"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," 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.

Citing a defamation suit brought by the head of MCMC against investigative journalist Lalitha Kunaratnam for reporting an alleged conflict of interests within the commission, RSF said that independent journalists and media remained regular targets of the authorities despite an improvement in the press freedom situation in Malaysia in recent years.

Malaysia is ranked 73 on the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index, the highest among Asean countries and up from 113 last year.

In June, Fahmi, who has jurisdiction over MCMC, came under fire after news portal MalaysiaNow was blocked for 48 hours. The regulatory body did not respond to repeated requests for an explanation.

Last month, MCMC also blocked another current affairs site, UtusanTV, operated by former staff of the now-defunct Utusan Melayu media company.

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. The regulatory agency said the block would be lifted on the condition that the outlet agreed to remove six pieces of news content.

Meanwhile, MCMC, in its response, said the commission was duty-bound to regulate the communications and multimedia industries, adding that this includes its role to ensure that online platforms do not break Malaysian laws.

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