Press freedom crucial for clean, accountable governance

In the spirit of World Press Freedom Day, the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) denounces the Malaysian government’s increasing attacks on our press, the fourth estate of realm of a society.

Since the 13th general election, the government has been widening its control over the press, using oppressive laws that violate freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of our federal constitution.

The growing trend of using restrictive laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Sedition Act 1948 and the Penal Code on our press and its personnel is extremely alarming, and effectively undermining the fundamental watchdog role of the media.

In the past year, the government has threatened legal action against a host of media personnel for reporting on matters that they unreasonably deem sensitive:

- Zakiah Koya from The Heat for reporting on the Citizens’ Declaration;
- Kow Gah Chie from Malaysiakini for reporting on a Barisan Nasional politician’s remark;
- Two Australian reporters (Four Corners - ABC) for questioning PM Najib Abdul Razak on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal; and
- Five executives from the (now shut down) The Malaysian Insider and its parent company, The Edge.

Furthermore, the government has also proposed to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the Official Secrets Act 1972, and the colonial Sedition Act 1948 to include additional red tapes and harsher penalties on those who disseminate information that departs from mainstream government propaganda.

This sort of clampdown is effectually shutting down the little existing space for the Malaysian media to engage in investigative journalism and raise red flags on unrighteous and shoddy dealings in our society.

Without a free press, the general public is deprived of crucial public information, which is fundamental in helping them make informed decisions in electing and holding their elected representatives accountable for actions and/or non-actions.

This information vacuum has allowed public officials representing the masses to arbitrarily monopolise public information to a terrifying level, and has subsequently created a conducive breeding ground for grand corruption.

At large, the elimination of our fourth estate of realm, has crippled a vital tool for ensuring clean governance, upholding transparency and forcing accountability in our society.

As such, we urge the Malaysian government to immediately stop the abuse and attacks on our media in order to eradicate corruption and rebuild Malaysia as a democratic and progressive nation state to be proud of.

CYNTHIA GABRIEL is executive director and SIMITHA T SINGAM is freedom of information officer, Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4).