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Television host reassigned following question on prime minister's ratings

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) notes with concern the action taken against a local television station host and producer for the program "Point of View", Florence Looi, for having asked her guests to rate the performance of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in his 100 days in office. Since the program was aired on 5 July 2009, ntv7 has issued her a memo regarding her question and has re-assigned her to field reporting.

On 13 July, online news portal Merdeka Review, in its Malay site Merdekareview BM, reported the action against Looi after one of her guests, an editor with the online news portal Malaysian Insider, rated Najib's performance poorly. In quoting sources, Merdekareview said that the 5 July show was the last in the season and that it may be discontinued. Looi has confirmed receiving the memo and her new assignment, and according to the news report, the reason given was the lack of reporters on the field.

CIJ regrets the punishment against Looi, who was only doing her job by asking questions on a current issue of interest. While CIJ recognises the decision of the management in handling its resources and on programming, it is concerned that media bosses are becoming overly protective of the Prime Minister to the point that individual journalists are punished for asking the "wrong" questions. This is a clear example of how newsrooms practice self-censorship, but citizens are entitled to know the extent to which the Prime Minister or his aides and appointed heads in the media, have exerted influence in the editorial decision making process.

Recent studies have shown that the public are generally skeptical of the content by the mainstream media. The action against Looi further heightens public skepticism of the mainstream media. "Point of View" was first aired on 9 January and has since put forward a range of issues, among them police accountability, anti-hopping laws, the controversial national service training program for school leavers, the Internal Security Act, vernacular schools and the effectiveness of boycott campaigns.

CIJ calls upon media bosses not to victimize their staff only to preserve narrow political interests. CIJ is concerned that a conglomerate like Media Prima Berhad, of which ntv7 is one of four television broadcasters, is prepared to ignore journalistic responsibilities and public interest to minimize or even eliminate any comments or views that are remotely critical of the Prime Minister. Media Prima is closely linked to UMNO, and the other stations in its fold are TV3, Channels 8 and 9, radio stations Fly FM and Hot FM, and newspapers in the New Straits Times Press Berhad group.

CIJ questions the Prime Minister's call for the media to be fearless in reporting the truth when media bosses aligned to the Prime Minister create a fearful environment for journalists. CIJ reiterates its call to defend and protect good journalists and demands the repeal of laws and practices that clearly undermine media freedom.

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