Published: 25 June 2015 1:53 PM
The Edge owner Datuk Tong Kooi On has been warned by Home Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi over reportage in The Edge and The Malaysian Insider. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, June 25, 2015.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's threat to revoke The Edge media group's publishing permits over reports on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) reeks of government intimidation, said Centre for Better Tomorrow (Cenbet).
Expressing concern over the matter, Cenbet's co-presidents Lim Chee Wee and Gan Ping Sieu said Zahid's statement could also be construed as a veiled attempt to stifle press freedom.
They said such remarks contradicted the spirit of greater freedom behind the amendments to the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984 three years ago, which had done away with several restrictive provisions.
"The Minister's remarks are, in the circumstances, wholly unnecessary. It is equally alarming, as it has come on the heels of the arrests or questioning of five journalists in April," they said, referring to the arrests of two senior executives and three editors from The Edge and The Malaysian Insider under the Sedition Act.
The report, published on March 25, said that the Conference of Rulers had rejected a proposal to amend a federal law that would pave the way for hudud to be enforced in Kelantan.
"Even if the allegations of tampering of emails and data are correct, the disproportionate vociferous response of the minister stands in stark contrast to his silence over the many successful defamation suits brought by some politicians and activists against a few mainstream media for defamatory or false news.
"Such successful suits show that these few newspapers are guilty of the wrong which the minister is levelling against The Edge," the duo said in a statement today.
In a statement issued last night, Zahid warned The Edge and its owner Datuk Tong Kooi Ong that publishing permits issued to the media group could be revoked.
The statement follows news that a former PetroSaudi International employee had been arrested for alleged blackmail and fabrication of information leaked to UK-based website Sarawak Report.
Lim and Gan said today while professional journalistic ethics must be upheld at all times and that no one was above the law, it should be noted that the authority or stakeholders in 1MDB have other avenues if they feel if it felt that it had been wrongly maligned by either The Edge or other publications.
They said The Edge and other media outlets raised many valid questions on 1MDB controversy that have met with unusual silence by the responsible parties up until prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's pledge to investigate the matter, which included an ongoing inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
"In the spirit of rules of law and good governance, the authority or any aggrieved party must first exhaust their remedies via due legal process to keep law and order or to ventilate their grievances, rather than resorting to administrative discretionary power readily for an alleged wrong in the absence of grave national threat of upheaval and violence," they said.
The two added that the fourth estate should be allowed to carry out their duties responsibly, without any threat or intimidation.
"Malaysia has a long way to go in media freedom, given it is ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index this year. Media freedom is a cornerstone of democracy on which this country is built. Any attempt that could be construed as veiled threats to stifle a healthy and open debate on any issue in this cyber age will be futile and counterproductive".
Zahid's statement follows developments since Monday, when Thai police arrested Xavier Andre Justo, a former executive with PetroSaudi, in Koh Samui.
Computers, hard drives and other data storage devices were seized during his arrest.
Justo was reported to have been paid some RM15 million to leave PetroSaudi and is now accused of asking for more money in an attempt to blackmail the oil company over its deals with 1MDB.
Thai media reported that Justo has denied this.
Thai police had also described Justo as an IT executive, but checks on company information available online showed that he had been a director.
After Thai media reported Justo's arrest two days ago, PetroSaudi issued a statement yesterday night to say that it was "relieved" and that the company had been made victim of a "regrettable crime that has unfortunately been politicised in Malaysia".
Malaysian pro-government newspaper the New Straits Times (NST) also carried a report yesterday stating that documents leaked on 1MDB's 2009 business deal with PetroSaudi had been edited before they appeared on the Sarawak Report website.
NST quoted an unnamed source from international cyber security firm Protection Group International (PGI).
1MDB also issued a statement today to note that initial investigations surrounding Justo's arrest showed that some leaked emails had been tampered with.
Sarawak Report has published a series of documents regarding the PetroSaudi-1MDB joint venture in 2009, which raised questions about 1MDB's dealings and also the involvement of Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho.
The Malaysian Insider is part of the The Edge Media Group which publishes The Edge. – June 25, 2015.
~ The Malaysian Insider