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On World Press Freedom Day, CIJ calls on government to implement media freedom road map

(CIJ, interim member/IFEX) - Kuala Lumpur, 3 May 2009 - The time is right for reforms in media freedom and freedom of expression as the Malaysian public grows more discerning and demanding for a freer and more democratic society.

In commemorating World Press Freedom Day 2009, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) call on Prime Minister Najib Razak to reveal a road map on media freedom for democracy, which entails an immediate halt to any form of censorship of news, views and opinions, and to suspend the use of the licensing provision in the Printing Presses and Publications Act that gives the government arbitrary powers in deciding the terms for publications.

CIJ and WAMI also would like to remind the State Governments that it is high time reforms were put in place involving media and access to information laws.

Despite the strong message delivered by voters in the 12th general elections, rejecting censorship and control of media and information, and delivering a severe blow to the Federal Government under Barisan Nasional (BN), the latter has not taken any concrete steps to demonstrate its openness to change.

The latest restriction on Internet media by the BN-led Perak state from its Legislative Assembly, scheduled to begin its proceedings on May 7, is grossly inconsistent with the "1Malaysia" concept propounded by the new Prime Minister. We note worryingly that despite the rhetoric of openness in "1Malaysia", the new PM's administration is reversing former PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's recognition of professionally-run Internet media by regularly restricting them from covering official functions.

In addition, the Federal government is implicitly threatening bloggers and online commentators with the Communication and Multimedia Act (CMA) and the Internal Security Act (ISA). This is evident as the new Information Minister Rais Yatim expounds "diplomatic" engagement with bloggers, his Ministry actively takes action against those who criticized the Perak Royal House online using the CMA. The ISA was also memorably invoked in September 2008 against prominent blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, Selangor state Exco Teresa Kok and journalist Tan Hoon Cheng. Raja Petra is now in hiding, fearing a third detention under the law.

"We expect to see a road map presented to the public by August that contains plans and timelines for what will be done to reform the areas of media freedom and access to information. We want to know when and not if the government will begin its review of the laws that affect freedom of expression," said CIJ Executive Director V. Gayathry.

"Following this, by November, the government should table a bill to amend the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act to provide for a one-time registration for media outlets and to reinstate/include judicial review of the Minister's decision with regard to issuance of permits. At the same time Najib should first set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to review media laws," said Wong Chin Huat.

Issued by:
Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Director, CIJ

Wong Chin Huat
Chairman, WAMI

Road Map on Media Freedom For Democracy: A People's Demand

Deadline: Immediate
No Censorship

Suspend the use of the licensing provision in the Printing Presses and Publications Act on newspapers and publications to demonstrate goodwill on the part of the ruling government to lessen its control and censorship of information and expression through the media. In addition, the government should commit to no censorship of news, views and opinions in public fora, the broadcast media and online spaces.

3 Months
Deadline: August 2009
Road Map on Reforms Presented to the Public

The Federal and State Governments should present their road map on reforms proposed in the area of promoting media freedom and citizen's access to public information to the public. Talks of reforms are pointless if they are not supported by concrete steps and measures that the public can assess and measure the political parties against.

6 Months
Deadline: November 2009
Amendments to the PPPA

Efforts are put in place to table amendments to the PPPA by the end of the year to provide that (a) all media outlets only need to register with the Ministry without printing license or annual publishing permit; and (b) the judicial review is reinstated.

Setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reform

An InterParliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reform should be set up within the next six months that will monitor the state of freedom of information and expression in Malaysia and initiate a public participation process to review the laws that have a negative impact on media freedom and freedom of expression. Among others, the Select Committee can begin by reviewing laws such as the PPPA, the Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act and the Internal Security Act for repeal, amend laws such as the Communications and Multimedia Act, and enacting a Right to Information Law.

1 - 2 years
Deadline: May 2011
Enactment of a Right to Information Law

Globally, over 80 countries have adopted the right to information law and Malaysia is not among the trend setters. This law is imperative for any efforts to have good and clean governments and where the citizens can enjoy full access to public information. The enactment of the right to information law should also involve a thorough amendment or complete repeal of the Official Secrets Act.

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