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Authorities urged to withdraw reprimand to newspaper, repeal Printing Presses and Publications Act

(CIJ/IFEX) - 22 March 2011 - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia regrets that yet another reprimand was issued by the Home Ministry to the press, this time to "The Star" newspaper.

"The Star" stated that it was reprimanded for a 9 March 2011 article on the impounding of 5,000 Bibles in the national language, Malay. "The Star" was reportedly reminded by the Home Ministry's chief secretary Zaitun Abdul Samad that printing press owners are required to comply with ministry directives under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

It is unclear what directives "The Star" breached. The article entitled "5,000 Bibles still not returned, says group" essentially quoted a statement by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship secretary-general, Sam Ang. Ang. According to the secretary-general, 5,000 Malay Bibles were confiscated by the Home Ministry in 2009, and they have still not been returned despite alleged Cabinet approval.

The holdup with the Bibles, reportedly due to their reference to "Allah" as God, is a curb by the government on freedom of expression as well as freedom of religion. Ang's statement was in no way incendiary or inflammatory. It expressed the concern of a community whose constitutional freedoms have been infringed. In publishing the statement, "The Star" was doing its duty in monitoring power and allowing the aggrieved party its say. No Home Ministry directive should have such wide and far-reaching powers as to prohibit the publication of such a statement.

This incident highlights more than ever the need for the PPPA to be repealed. It is a serious infringement on media freedom when the government has the power to dictate to newspapers what they can or cannot report. The role of the media is to serve the public interest. The government's ability to reprimand and deny newspapers licences for not following its instructions has only led to the continued erosion of the media's ability to play this important role.

CIJ therefore calls on the Home Ministry to retract its reprimand to "The Star" and to cease issuing directives which interfere with the media's public interest role. It is in the interest of the people that the media is free to report on statements as they see fit. Actions such as the Home Ministry's recent interference will only impede the government's declared aims of ensuring good governance, transparency and accountability and should therefore cease.

CIJ also calls on all Malaysians who value an independent media to hold the government accountable over the appalling state of media freedom in the country. With the general election expected in 2011, it is an opportune time to tell our elected representatives that we want the PPPA repealed.

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    Fifteen thousand Bibles have been confiscated since September 2009 because they use the term "Allah" for "God" in the text.

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