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Political party president threatens journalist, pictures erased from photographer's camera

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

Let the press do its job

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that journalists continue to be harassed at political party functions. In the latest incident, a journalist and a photographer with a Tamil daily claimed they were singled out and threatened by the president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

Makkal Osai recently reported that at a 16 November dinner meeting of MIC leaders, the party's president, S. Samy Vellu, decided to cut short his speech and leave when the audience paid him little heed. On his way out, Samy Vellu seized the camera of Makkal Osai photographer M. Samy and told journalist S. Venugar not to write about what transpired.

The online daily Malaysiakini reported that Samy Vellu had some of the pictures in the photographer's camera erased while the politician's bodyguard uttered an ominous-sounding threat to S. Venugar. M. Samy and S. Venugar both filed a police report regarding the incident the next day.

When contacted by CIJ, Samy Vellu's press secretary, E. Sivabalan declined to comment.

CIJ notes with concern the growing number of threats by members of political parties - both from the government and the opposition - against journalists, which also infringe on the right of journalists to exercise their duty to the public.

CIJ is also disappointed over the continued barring of reporters from the Malay daily Utusan Malaysia by the Pakatan Rakyat Federal Opposition pact from its events over unethical reporting issues. While these are legitimate concerns, the approach taken by Pakatan is hardly reflective of their proclaimed democratic ideals.

CIJ calls upon all political parties to treat media professionals with respect. The media are the eyes and ears of the public. Any restrictions on the media are a violation of the public's right to information.

CIJ foresees that such violations of media freedom will continue with the increasingly volatile political landscape. The problem can only be resolved with overall reform of media, from eliminating state control through ownership and legislation to establishing self-regulation measures such as an independent media council as well as a plural media.

The first step that legislators can take is to initiate a Parliamentary Select Committee on media freedom.

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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