Dec 28, 2013
Media activists have poured cold water on the Home Ministry’s explanation that news weekly The Heat’s suspension was due to its failure to comply with technical provisions under its publishing permit.
At a forum in Kuala Lumpur last night to show solidarity with The Heat, Malaysiakini chief editor Fathi Aris Omar bluntly called the explanation “bulls**t”.
Fathi pointed out that the government has had a history of indefinitely suspending publications on technical grounds when upset with their contents.
“An example was a political news weekly Ekslusif, published by KarangKraf which was closed down in April after the 1999 General Election with the reason that its licence had lapsed and now renewed,” he said.
Adding on, political cartoonist Nor Afendi Ramli (above) said other publications such as Tamadun, Detik, Al-Wasilah were similarly “suspended indefinitely” on technicalities and never allowed to resume.
“The Home Ministry can use any technical reason for suspension.
“In the case of Al-Wasilah, the reason given was because the name of the publication had ‘Al’ in it but the fact was because of its contents,” said Afendi, who is better known by his pen name, Ronasina.
He added that “suspension” was merely a nicer sounding word but often times in the past it has been as good as “closure”.
“Another example is in 1987, when the Malay language political tabloid was popular with a circulation of 60,000 to 70,000… it was critical of both the government and opposition.
“It similar received the same fate (as The Heat) with a ‘suspension’ but for Watan, it was in fact a ‘closure’,” he said.
The Heat is the most recent victim of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 after the Home Minister suspended it indefinitely.
The action came shortly after the news weekly published a front-page story entitled “All eyes on big spending PM Najib” which highlighted the premier’s and his wife’s Rosmah Mansor’s costly overseas trips and expensive consultants.
The Home Ministry has denied the controversial story was the cause of suspension and instead attributed it to “violation of publishing permit provisions”.
The forum in Kuala Lumpur last night was organised by Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm), a loose coalition of journalists, editors and activists, prompted by The Heat’s suspension.
‘Call to action’
Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan (right) said journalists themselves were partly to be blamed over the lack of press freedom in the country and called on them to take action against The Heat’s suspension this time around.
“I think we have not done enough (for press freedom). We have collectively failed the millions of Malaysians who look up to us to at least help bring about change.
“I can understand why many journalists prefer not to rock the boat, especially those in the mainstream media.
“But if we stand together, we can defy the tycoons and political parties that own much of the media today,” he said.
He added that a strong opposition, a vibrant civil society and an independent media were the three key ingredients to “change” but the last element was evidently missing.
Gan pointed out that the opposition had boosted its parliamentary seats five fold to 89 since the 1999 general election while forces such as Bersih and Hindraf had emerged in the civil society.
However, even though there was the emergence of the online media outfits and newer titles recently, the overall media environment remained the same.
“The government knows this very well which is why it is keeping a tight leash on at least one of this force (the media) as it has already lost control of other two forces.”
Meanwhile, Reporters Without Border representative Hata Wahari (left) urged the audience, mostly young journalists, to adopt a more hardline stance against attacks on press freedom.
Hata, who was sacked as a senior journalists by Utusan Malaysia for critical remarks against his own company when he was National Union of Journalist (NUJ) president, said forums and petitions alone will not be taken seriously by the Home Ministry.
Yesterday’s forum titled “Free the press: Dare to defy” was attended by mostly young journalists clad in red as a sign of protest and accompanied by supporters from civil society, including Bar Council president Christopher Leong.
‘Legal support’ pledge
Organisers at the forum also announced a “Red Pencil” protest on Jan 4 in Kuala Lumpur as a follow-up to calls for tougher action in response to the Home Ministry’s suspension of The Heat.
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) advisor Eric Paulsen, who was among the audience, also urged journalists to take action and pledged legal support.
“I urge all of us to band together on this issue, you have a legitimate cause and this is something that you cannot lose the moral high ground.
“This initiative must be journalist driven and if you get into trouble, LFL is right behind you to provide free legal advice.
“If you want to demonstrate, let us know and we will come, if you get charged, we will defend you and if you want to sue them, we will do it for you,” he said.
Other speakers at the forum moderated by FZ.com editor Zakiah Koya were Free Malaysia Today chief reporter G Vinod, Centre for Independent Journalism executive director Masjalizah Hamzah and The Malaysian Insider assistant news editor V Anbalagan.