PETALING JAYA, 11 Sept 2009: The Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)’s investigation of Malaysiakini this week is not the first time the online news site has been harassed or threatened by the state.
In fact, Malaysiakini has experienced harassment and received threats from state agencies and government leaders under the previous administration of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and now, under Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Screencap of Malaysiakini.com
“Press freedom hasn’t improved a lot over the last 10 years,” said Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan in a phone interview with The Nut Graph. The news site turns 10 years old this year.
“The government has a long track record of muzzling the [traditional] media. They have the mindset that they want to clamp down on us. Although there is the ‘no censorship‘ pledge for online media, the mindset is still the same.”
Last week, the MCMC directed Malaysiakini to remove two video reports from its site and from YouTube. The first video showed the 28 Aug 2009 cow-head protest in Shah Alam where the protestors threatened bloodshed if a Hindu temple was relocated to their neighbourhood. The second video was of Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein‘s 2 Sept press conference where he defended the cow-head protestors.
MCMC officers questioned Malaysiakini staff for eight hours on 8 Sept on the two videos. Seven members of the MCMC visited Malaysiakini again on 10 Sept and demanded for the original tapes of the recording of the event. They also asked to copy the hard disks of two computers that were used to upload the videos.
The current investigation is under Sections 211 and 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 which prohibits the provision of content which is “indecent, obscene, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person.”
No stranger to harassment
The Fairly Current Show interviews Gan on the MCMC investigation
Gan says Malaysiakini has experienced state harassment and threats in “many different forms” and has had to give statements to the police several times.
“Some were attacks by ministers, especially the previous Information Minister, (Datuk Seri) Zainuddin Maidin,” Gan said. Zainuddin has previously called Malaysiakini “nonsense”.
“The most serious incident was in 2003 when we were raided and 19 of our computers were taken away — the allegations (against us) were made under the Sedition Act,” Gan added. The computers were eventually returned and no charges were made against the news site.
Nazri (file pic)
The government also threatened action against Malaysiakini on an April Fool’s prank in 2005 which stated that three ministers and one menteri besar would be facing corruption charges. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz said then that the government would take action against the website “because Malaysiakini is a liar”.
“They have used various laws in their investigations against us,” said Gan. “Sedition, criminal defamation and publishing false news.”
“With this administration, there has been talk that the government needs to engage the internet. However, things have not improved under the new information minister (Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim). He does not seem to understand the online media and I don’t see much change,” Gan said.
However, Gan conceded that compared to the traditional media, the online media has relatively more freedom.
“The major difference about publishing online is that we do not need to obtain a printing licence from them (Home Ministry) before we can publish. The government therefore has no leverage to use the licensing system against us and we therefore have a bit more freedom.” he said.
Just doing their job
MCMC’s chief operating officer, Sharil Tarmizi, explains the agency’s function on
The Fairly Current Show
Gan stressed that Malaysiakini would not be removing the two videos MCMC is investigating them for. He said the editors felt that the video reports were accurate recordings about events that occurred.
“Something happened, we were there and our intention is to put up a true recording of what happened. We are doing our job as journalists and bringing a news event to the public’s attention and hopefully through that, something can be done about it,” he said.
“Incidents such as these have happened before but because there was no video, no action was taken,” Gan added.
He said Malaysiakini would defend itself if charged in court, but so far he has yet to consult the company’s lawyers.
“We felt we shouldn’t be influenced by our lawyers on whether to take the videos down or not. It was a decision by the editors,” he said.
“They (the authorities) are arguing that by putting up the first video on the cow-head protesters, we could be inflaming racial hatred and increasing racial tension. Judging from the comments from our readers, 99% are supportive of our stand that the videos should stay.”
Gan said that even their Indian Malaysian readers informed them that the videos should remain on the website. Although the readers were upset over the protestors’ actions, they still wanted the videos to be there.
MCMC had stated in their directive that the videos should be taken down because the videos contained offensive content with the intent to annoy “any person especially the Indians”.
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