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Press freedom just a PH campaign tool, veteran journalist says after media restrictions

A Kadir Jasin says it was never an ideological commitment for the coalition.

3 minute read
Attendees listen to a speech at a Pakatan Harapan ceramah event ahead of the 15th general election in November 2022.
Attendees listen to a speech at a Pakatan Harapan ceramah event ahead of the 15th general election in November 2022.

A veteran journalist says that Pakatan Harapan (PH) only used the issue of press freedom as a campaign tool for its political interests, following the recent string of blocks on websites.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, A Kadir Jasin said that PH never made an earnest effort or took it upon itself to safeguard freedom of speech and protect media freedom, as it previously proclaimed.

"Media freedom was used as a campaign tool, but it wasn't a deep or serious ideological commitment for PH.

"When they became the government, they found that media freedom was a double-edged sword," he added.

Kadir, the former group editor-in-chief of the New Straits Times, said this led to harsh actions against media outlets that were not aligned with the government, effectively restricting them.

These restrictions on the media, Kadir said, were a "desperate attempt" by PH to cover up its weaknesses and failures in governing the country.

"Their tolerance is low because there hasn't been much good news to offer the media since they took office nine months ago.

"They're also upset about the results of the state elections on Aug 12, which didn't go as well as they had hoped," he added.

On Sept 1, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), an agency under the communications and digital ministry helmed by Fahmi Fadzil, said that the action taken against "irresponsible media outlets" was "not to stifle freedom of the press but to ensure that information is disseminated responsibly and without the spread of slander or misinformation".

The regulatory body's actions had drawn criticism from various quarters, including global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

RSF had expressed concern over the recent wave of suspensions by the authorities, which it said were done "without any explanations nor judicial control, of news websites critical of the government".

A group of veteran media professionals, meanwhile, had warned the government against playing the role of "Big Brother", saying it was a reminder of the practice by past administrations to shut down critics and please political elites.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty also criticised MCMC, reminding PH of its opposition to the Anti-Fake News Act enacted by the previous administration under Najib Razak.

NGOs deny keeping mum

NGOs that had long advocated freedom of speech were also criticised for not speaking out against the restrictions under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's administration.

But Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and the media practitioners group Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) refuted any suggestion that they had become less vocal in their advocacy for media freedom issues.

Suaram executive director Sevan Doraismy said it had consistently raised issues of injustice, including media freedom, in the country.

"Those who question us mean they haven't read our statements.

"It's important to note that media freedom isn't our primary focus," he said. "Yet Suaram has consistently expressed its views and concerns on media freedom."

Sevan also said that Suaram had vehemently opposed and denounced the restrictions imposed by MCMC in the name of combating fake news, adding that the regulatory agency's actions were not only undemocratic but also served as a convenient means for the government to evade addressing the concerns raised.

Activist Radzi Razak of Geramm echoed this sentiment, saying his organisation continued to advocate for media freedom.

"We have never been silent about media rights," he said.