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TV station censors own programme after getting SMS message forwarded by PM's office

(CIJ/IFEX) - 23 April 2010 - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned to learn of an alleged self-censorship of "Editor's Time", a current affairs programme on television station NTV7, which appeared to be in reaction to an anonymous text message complaining about the show.

The former producer of the programme, Joshua Wong Ngee Choong, who resigned on 20 April 2010 over this, claimed that the text message was forwarded from the Prime Minister's Department to his superior.

Revealing this at a press conference two days later explaining his resignation, he said that despite his explanation to the top editorial people regarding the allegations in the complaint, rebutting each point as baseless, they decided to restrict the programme thus: there were to be no discussion of political issues or the coming Hulu Selangor by-election whose outcome is crucial for the two contesting rival parties, and no opposition politicians as guests.

CIJ finds the chain of events, if true, highly disturbing. Firstly, the source of the self-censorship was not even a directive but a forwarded anonymous text message; and secondly, it was allegedly passed on by no less than the Prime Minister's Department, seemingly condoning the content but still making no demands. That such unceremonious actions could make the television station succumb into censoring its programme is another damning indictment of the state of media independence in this country after decades of political ownership and control.

CIJ finds the restrictions highly undemocratic and unbefitting of a media, one of whose roles is to provide a forum for public criticism on issues of concern. The media's credibility - and survival - comes from the audience's trust, which means that the media's first loyalty is to citizens, not its owners.

NTV7's attempt to please its political masters, as alleged by Wong, is fruitless since the lessons from the 2008 general election showed that an increasing number of people are not buying the media propaganda favouring the incumbent federal government. The public are more discerning of the information as well as the institutions in power, including media.

CIJ salutes the producer for taking a principled position by resigning in protest of this self-censorship. However, the organisation is distressed that it comes at the cost of another senior journalist's job, when he was merely following his professional dictates. The same station in July 2009 cancelled a talk show after one of the guests rated Najib's first 100 days in office as mediocre when asked by the programme's producer-host Florence Looi. Looi was also given a show-cause letter and later re-assigned to field reporting.

CIJ would like to seek clarification from Dato' Ahmad Abd Talib, the Executive Director of News and Editorial Operations, on this matter as the public's right to information and the credibility of NTV7 are at stake. If unaddressed, this will serve as an embarrassing reminder of the state of the Malaysian media, just in time for World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

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