Differing views on police action on media

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KUALA LUMPUR: Two Umno lawmakers had different opinions on the arrests of five executives and editors from The Edge and The Malaysian Insider over an article on hudud and the Conference of Rulers, with one calling it a “mistake,” while another said media freedom does not mean there is “freedom to lie”.

Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed questioned the action, saying the authorities should not use the Sedition Act to judge whether the article was seditious or not.

“To me, it was a mistake. It seems excessive to make the arrests under the Sedition Act.

“Even if the article was wrong, they didn’t have to go to the extent of making arrests under the Sedition Act,” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby yesterday.

Nur Jazlan, who is also the Public Accounts Committee chairman, was commenting on the arrests of The Edge Media Group publisher  and group CEO Ho Kay Tat, The Malaysian Insider (TMI) chief executive officer Jahabar Sadiq, TMI managing editor Lionel Morais, senior editors Amin Iskandar and Zulkifli Sulong over a March 25 report by the news portal.

In contrast, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz defended the arrests, saying that although he believed in freedom of the press, no one should have the “freedom to lie”.

“They are rightly arrested because journalists are not above the law. Yes, I believe in freedom of the press, but it is not a licence to [have] the freedom to lie,” he said at the Parliament lobby.

“The Rulers Council did not meet and discuss this, and there is no decision at all from the Council to disagree with the tabling of hudud in Kelantan, so obviously what was written is a lie. I think The Malaysian Insider, being a news media people rely upon, must ensure that their sources must be correct because it may mislead others who believe what’s written,” the Padang Rengas MP said.

He also defended the use of the Sedition Act against critics, saying it is needed for “all Malaysians to respect Malay rulers”.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi denied that he was responsible for the arrests, saying that he had nothing to do with the police action.

Speaking to reporters at the Parliament lobby, he said he was not “directly involved” in the operational activities of the police force.

“As a minister, I cannot interfere with police orders,” he said.

Gerakan, a partner in the Barisan Nasional coalition, also criticised the arrests.

“A formal demand for withdrawal and clarification would suffice if the article was indeed incorrect,” the party’s vice-president Datuk Dr Dominic Lau Hoe Chai said in a statement yesterday, adding that the arrests were a disproportionate use of force.

The article said the Conference of Rulers had rejected a plan to amend a federal law that would allow hudud, or the Islamic penal code, to be enforced in Kelantan.

Prominent social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir was among those who questioned Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar’s judgment in using the Sedition Act in connection with the report, the Malay Mail Online reported.

“Very sad day for media freedom, as limited as we already had. How come the IGP gets to decide who is seditious and who is not?” Marina told the news portal.

“If the report is inaccurate, then there should be an official statement on it. TMI would lose some credibility,” she said.

Marina also said that the arrest of the TMI editors will only serve to strengthen support for the news portal.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said such harsh measures were counter-productive and would only give Malaysia another international black eye for not practising what Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak preached on freedom and moderation.

“DAP calls for the immediate release of all those arrested, including journalists who are trying to report news. If their reporting is wrong, they can be sued for defamation or punished with fines.

Several journalist groups criticised the arrests as an abuse of power. The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said the raid on TMI’s office and the arrest of the editors were part of a worrying decline in the standards of freedom of expression in Malaysia.

“The CIJ questions the high-handedness of the raid and arrests. Should the article have been found to be incorrect, it could have been rebutted and TMI requested to retract it or publish a correction,” said CIJ’s directors, Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee, in a statement on Monday night.

In a strongly worded editorial, Malaysiakini condemned the arrests “in the strongest possible terms”, calling it a “blatant assault on media freedom”.

Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group, joined the chorus of protests against the police action.

“Malaysia’s use of the Sedition Act to criminalise reporters gravely threatens freedom of the press,” said the deputy director of its Asia division, Phil Robertson. — The Malaysian Insider


This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 1, 2015.