Friday, July 3, 2015

Media fraternity must close ranks and not be silenced

03 Jul 2015 01:00 PM      
 by Alyaa Alhadjri
COMMENT: As the government has gone back on its word to not interfere with the media, this time in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) saga, the press must close ranks and stand together to defy attempts of cowing them from performing their duty of relaying information to the public.  

Barely a day after Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Wan Tuanku Jaafar promised that Putrajaya will not clamp down on the media over coverage of the RM42 million 1MDB fiasco, that promise was broken.  
The Edge Media Group CEO Ho Kay Tat on July 1 confirmed news reports that it had received a show-cause letter from the Home Ministry and given seven-days to provide a written explanation on why action should not be taken against The Edge Malaysia and The Edge Financial Daily under the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984. 

In a report carried by online portal The Malaysian Insider, as part of The Edge media group, Ho said: “We are accused of publishing articles on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) that have created confusion and doubts about the government and our financial institutions. 

“We are also accused of relying on an Internet portal for our articles. The letter did not specify the articles,” he said.  

Ho also said that The Edge had been reporting about 1MDB since it was known as Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) and had in the last six months published more than 300 articles on 1MDB from various sources –BernamaBloombergReutersThe Business Times SingaporeEuromoney – along with its own reporting from the media channels in The Edge Media Group. 

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had previously warned The Edge for having published information from former PetroSaudi International (PSI) employee, Andre Xavier Justo, which had allegedly been tampered with and leaked to UK-based whistleblower website Sarawak Report. 

The warning was issued following Justo’s arrest in Thailand for alleged blackmail, though its editor Clare Rewcastle Brown had claimed that the Swiss citizen was a victim of revenge and harassment by 1MDB.  

The version told by the Malaysian authorities is that Justo was asked to tamper the leaked information by Malaysian figures prior to it being leaked to Sarawak Report. 

Tony PuaDAP national publicity chief Tony Pua has likened the Home Ministry’s action to a “crass form of intimidation” as it did not even specify the allegedly offending articles.  

The Petaling Jaya Utara MP has been issuing almost daily statements highlighting alleged financial mismanagements of 1MDB and pointed out that neither the state-investment arm, PSI or businessman Low Taek Jho had provided evidence that the leaked documents published in The Edgeand Sarawak Report these past five months had been tampered with.

"Hence we would like to ask Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on what basis are you issuing the show cause letter against The Edge Publications, or any other parties publishing these stories for that matter? 

"In fact, it would have made more sense if the Home Minister had issued a show cause letter to The Edge (or other local publications) for publishing some of the statements issued by the top management of 1MDB, which have since been proven to be outright lies," said Pua in a statement on July 2.
Going by its recent actions, being sensible is not ranked very high on the Home Ministry’s list of priorities. 

After all, to be sensible would require one to have the ability to think and evaluate the situation before deciding on the most appropriate course of action.  

Knee-jerk reactions to silence the critics on the other hand has been a characteristic of the Barisan Nasional government – with ministers, government officials and authorities known for making contradicting statements, only to later blame the media for allegedly ‘twisting’ their words.  

Even when evidence is provided to show otherwise, they still find a way to wriggle themselves out of giving a straight answer to any allegation.  

At its very core, all explanations given by the management of 1MDB have so far only succeeded to raise more questions over its operations.  

The media’s responsibility, in this case, should be to continue reporting all sides of the story without fear or favour – even under threats of intimidation.  

While ownership of the media in Malaysia is problematic, those who are called to the profession, the editors and journalists, should and must remember their duty. 

For they serve the public who they are ultimately beholden to, more than to their publications and the government that they are supposed to keep in check and balance.  

This is not the first time the Home Ministry has issued such threats and it is unlikely to be the last unless the media can come together in solidarity with each other and send a clear message that it will not be cowed by such tactics.

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