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CIJ calls on authorities to investigate bribery of journalists

(CIJ/IFEX) - The following is a 19 January 2009 statement by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), an interim member of IFEX:

The Malaysian authorities should immediately investigate reports that officers from the Terengganu state Information Ministry offered cash to journalists covering a parliamentary seat by-election in Kuala Terengganu, on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, over the weekend.

Reporters at the media centre who were covering the by-election were asked to list their names, organisations and telephone numbers before being given an envelope containing RM300 (approx. US$82). Some of the journalists were reported to have returned the money to the staff at the centre, who claimed they did not know who it had come from. The ministry has denied making any payments to the journalists.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) partner based in Kuala Lumpur, is disappointed that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has decided not to investigate the case because they said the reporters could not identify the individuals who offered them the money.

"This reflects the lack of initiative on the part of the MACC to respond to what is clearly an attempt to bribe journalists covering the by-election. This is unacceptable, as the authorities should be able to easily identify who the culprits were. Are we to accept this excuse from an agency that is to undertake the huge task of investigating corruption? This approach makes a mockery of the so-called reforms towards a corruption-free society that were declared by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his last-minute attempts to prove that he was doing something on the issue," said CIJ executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran.

Venkiteswaran said the authorities should take the matter seriously, especially the report filed by the two journalists who acted immediately upon discovering that they were given cash in an envelope.

CIJ commends Chen Shaua Fui and Chan Wei See from the "MerdekaReview.com" online media source ( http://www.merdekareview.com/ ) for filing police reports immediately after receiving the cash.

The journalists were not only driven to report a criminal activity but are serious about upholding high ethical standards by rejecting any form of inducement.

"The information minister, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, boasted in October 2008 that there was no 'envelope journalism' in Malaysia where journalists and editors are paid to highlight certain stories. How ironic that the alleged bribery over the weekend has taken place within the state information department's media centre. We call for an investigation by the Election Commission (EC), the police and the MACC to identify the people who gave the money and we request that action be taken immediately," added Venkiteswaran.

While there are no documented cases of bribery of media personnel, influence over newsroom decisions comes in the form of laws and political pressure. Among the more critical laws are the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communication and Multimedia Act, which ensures that the ruling government has ways to penalise the media if the coverage is critical of them.

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