The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) views with concern the government’s decision to block access to UtusanTV.com’s website by some Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This site is a spin-off of Utusan Malaysia’s lifestyle section. Another news portal, MalaysiaNow, was similarly blocked from 28-30 June. Such actions are reminiscent of censorship undertaken by Najib Razak against news portals and Bersih’s own website that were critical of his government.
During that era, Pakatan Harapan (PH) was denied access to government media platforms and any reports on them by these media were skewed and unflattering. PH’s election manifestos for GE14 and GE15 promised media freedom and repeal of draconian provisions in Acts that could be abused to restrict free speech such as the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and Printing Press and Publications Act 1984.
BERSIH calls on the government of PM Anwar Ibrahim to honour his pledge, as laid out in his coalition’s manifestos, to defend free speech and protect media freedom. UtusanTV.com site must be unblocked immediately.
Should there be any concerns about the content of a media organisation, there should be a transparent process with a show cause letter and appeal opportunity before any blocking.
The Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) on Human Rights, Elections and Institutional Reforms should organise hearings to seek public input on the amending of the Communications and Multimedia Act to democraticise the operation of the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), one of the many institutions born in the era of authoritarianism.
While some Malaysians may support such crackdown in the fear of 3R controversies, we like to remind both the government and all stakeholders that extremism can only be curbed with legitimate, targeted and fair measures on one hand and encouragement of healthy and constructive debates on the other. If crackdown is deemed driven by partisan calculation, the suppressed voices will only grow stronger in under-currents, posing a greater danger to inclusion and stability.
A key cornerstone of democracy is free and fair access to public media by all political parties but sadly Malaysia has never witnessed such fair play during our elections. The PH-led Unity Government continues to treat government-owned public broadcast media as their private assets and deny critical views by the Opposition from being aired.
In the last few days before polling day for the six state elections, we hope that stations like Bernama and RTM would give free airtime for all coalition leaders at state-level to talk about their manifestos, equitable media coverage and host political debates between the coalitions and parties.
In this day and age of social media accessibility, it is futile for any government to try and restrict their opponents. Instead, the Madani government should lead the way to promote open and public discourses on government-owned media so that Malaysians can judge for themselves the merits of competing views and ideologies.
The Steering Committee of BERSIH