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PMO bars critical online newspaper from covering cabinet announcement

CIJ, WAMI: Najib's credibility in media freedom shattered

(CIJ, interim member/IFEX) - 10 April 2009 - Any credibility Prime Minister Najib Razak may have had when he called for "embracing" the new media and "promoting a free environment" was shattered on the day he announced his cabinet line-up, say the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Writers for Media Independence (WAMI).

Only six days into his prime-ministership, the online media, http://www.merdekareview.com , has been barred from covering the announcement of Najib's new Cabinet line-up. It has recently published commentaries criticizing pro-Najib stories from the best-selling Chinese paper, Sin Chew Jit Poh.

CIJ and WAMI warn that the PM's move to centralising the governance of broadcast and Internet media - under the purview of the Ministry of Information, Communication, Art and Literature - might simply mean more news censorship and tighter control for the media.

Already, the appointment of Hishammudin Hussien as Home Minister has raised doubts about whether more space for dialogue is possible. The former UMNO Youth Chief has, on the record, both vocally supported the Internal Security Act and sparked ethno-nationalist controversies with his incendiary language.

To salvage his credibility in promoting openness, CIJ and WAMI call upon the PM to announce both a plan and a timetable to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee tasked with reviewing all media laws. This parliamentary panel would ensure broad-based public consultation and allow real reform.

On 9 April 2009, http://www.merdekareview.com reporter Wong Shu Qi and photographer Saw Siow Feng were denied entry into the PM's department to cover the Cabinet line-up announcement. One of Najib's aides later informed them that the instructions were directly from the PM's office. When contacted by CIJ on 10 April, the editor of the Chinese news portal, Chang Teck Peng, said he has yet to receive any explanation about why his organization was targeted.

CIJ and WAMI maintain that barring journalists from reporting violates principles of media freedom. Any media outlet must be allowed to cover all official events, regardless of its owner's political affiliation or style of reporting.

CIJ and WAMI call upon both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat to show their commitment to media freedom. This ban by the Prime Minister's Office, as well as the Pakatan Rakyat Penang Government's earlier ban of the English daily "New Straits Times" from its official functions, demonstrates further that both are willing only to pay lip service to the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and information.

Issued by
Wong Chin Huat
Chairman
Writers' Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
and Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)

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