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Government commission prohibits private broadcasters from covering opposition leaders

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Malaysian government has warned private broadcasters to refrain from granting coverage to opposition leaders, according to an independent news site in the Kuala Lumpur capital.

Online news publication "Malaysiakini" reported on 29 June 2007 that a commission under the Energy, Water and Communications Ministry recently ordered private television and radio stations to black out speeches of opposition politicians.

The directive from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) was issued in a 7 June letter signed by the chairperson, Halim Shafie. It did not give any reason for the order. "Malaysiakini" obtained a copy of the letter, which it published here: http://www.malaysiakini.com/others/mcmcletter.html

The MCMC regulates communications and multimedia activities, including the licensing of the four private free-to-air television stations and 16 private radio stations in Malaysia.

The commission declined comment when contacted by local communication rights watchdog, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

CIJ, a SEAPA partner, calls the order "a deliberate attack on Malaysians' rights to freedom of speech and information".

"CIJ urges the government to stop violating people's right to freedom of speech and instead, initiate reforms to remove restrictions to people's access to information," the organisation said in a 2 July release ( http://www.cijmalaysia.org/display_story.asp?ID=512 ).

SEAPA shares CIJ's disappointment at the continued government interference in editorial decisions, in view of promises of openness, transparency and integrity from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Abdullah who, in 2004, obtained the biggest electoral mandate since 1978 on such pledges. The recent directive to the media comes as another blow for Malaysians who had hoped for reform in governance following 22 years of political suppression and severe free expression restrictions under the previous prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Abdullah has also proved disappointing recently for his statement that repressive media laws will not be repealed.

Since the 1987 crackdown, which saw the arrest of 106 activists and politicians as well as the suspension of three news publications, the Malaysian government has gotten away with suppression of critical speech, using various repressive laws and ad hoc bans, in the name of maintaining peace and harmony in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

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