Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) today hit out at the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) following its threat of action against news portal MalaysiaNow, calling for a halt to its "pressure on media critical of the government".
"RSF denounces the censorship order issued yesterday by the Communications Commission @MCMC_RASMI against a report from @MNowNews on the uproar in Parliament," RSF, which previously voiced concern over MCMC's move to block several news sites in the country, said in a Twitter post.
"We call on the regulatory agency to immediately cease its pressure on media critical of the government."
MCMC, a body under the communications and digital ministry headed by Fahmi Fadzil, had given MalaysiaNow two hours on Sept 20 to amend or take down its reports on the commotion in the Dewan Rakyat, failing which it said the portal would face "further enforcement actions".
The episode in the Dewan Rakyat had seen a shouting match among MPs after Putrajaya MP Radzi Jidin took offence at Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's remarks suggesting that he was involved in accusations of corruption.
Radzi's repeated demands for a retraction from Anwar were refused, while speaker Johari Abdul said there was no issue if the prime minister was convinced of what he stated.
Radzi responded by saying that he, too, could say he was convinced that Anwar, the Tambun MP, was a sodomiser, believed to be a reference to the PKR leader's previous sodomy convictions.
MCMC said the articles "do not reflect the true context of the speech in question", adding that the headlines were also "disrespectful and insulting". However, it did not provide its own version of the events.
Earlier today, it defended its threat, urging media outlets to abide by its guidelines which it said would lead to a "more informed and balanced public discourse, free from misleading information and manipulation".
"MCMC has observed that some reporting has been weaponised to manipulate the content and fuel a disrespectful and divisive narrative.
"In order to prevent the commission or attempted commission of an offence under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, MCMC calls for full cooperation from news outlets and individuals," it said.
MCMC's order to MalaysiaNow followed a series of blocks of news sites that had published content critical of the government.
RSF said then that it was "very concerned" by the "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.
A group of senior journalists had also warned the commission against playing the role of "Big Brother", 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.
Kadir today said he had asked an MCMC officer if it was an offence to talk about previous court cases involving the prime minister, but received no clear answer.
"After 10 months in power, the actions of some leaders in the unity government and agencies related to the mass media give the impression that they are intolerant towards the freedom of speech and dissent.
"Some have even filed complaints with the police," said Kadir, who once headed the New Straits Times Press.