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Municipal authorities consider filing complaint against journalist, newspaper for "unfavourable" reporting

(CIJ/IFEX) - The following is a 3 December 2008 statement by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), an interim member of IFEX:

Council should counter media through media, not police

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that the Subang Jaya Municipal Council plans to file a complaint against the journalist and the media outlet which reported unfavourably on the council. CIJ finds it worrying that the council chooses to view the media's duty to report objectively to the public in a criminal light. Further, the council should understand that there are democratic options for pursuing redress, such as right of reply or correction.

On 2 December 2008, the "New Straits Times" reported that during a meeting between the Malaysian Animal Rights and Welfare Association and the council on the reported cruelty of the council's dog catchers, the council's officials said they are considering lodging a police report against the newspaper and its writer for highlighting the incident. The meeting was referring to a 10 November report that a member of the public witnessed council officers that were on stray dog operation behaving cruelly to one of the animals.

CIJ is concerned that the media may face undue pressure merely for doing its job since the state is not using less harsh options. The council, if it feels that it has been unfairly represented in the report, can always give its version of the event to the press and seek a correction or an apology if the media has been clearly shown to be wrong. Turning to laws immediately reflects a poor appreciation of the role of the press and an impression that public scrutiny on its performance is unwelcome.

CIJ asks the council to desist from such action now and in future. As with any public body funded by tax payers, the council must be governed by transparency and openness, which will also boost its image and standing. And one barometer of transparency is the level of respect and freedom accorded to the press for it to do its job.

CIJ aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all people enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.

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