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Seputeh MP calls on M’sians to “stand up” for press freedom

Seputeh MP Teresa Kok has called on“right-thinking”Malaysians to stand up against the alleged backsliding of media freedom under the new Perikatan Nasional government.

Among others, the DAP lawmaker highlighted the government’s crackdown against international news agency Al Jazeera over a contentious documentary on Malaysia’s alleged treatment of undocumented migrants and the fining of satellite television provider Astro for re-airing an Al Jazeera documentary five years ago.

“Recent drastic actions by the relevant authorities against the media seem to be several strides backwards.

“[…] this appears to be the direction of PN and sadly, the ministers who are in PN and who were in the Pakatan Harapan cabinet are guilty of this destruction.

“Unless right-thinking Malaysians and those who cherish freedom and a healthy democracy stand up and be counted, we will slip down further in the Press Freedom Index soon,” her statement read.

Kok also labelled the recent declaration by the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) that Al Jazeera required a licence to film the documentary as “preposterous”.

She said: “The network is a locally constituted company under the Registrar of Companies which was allowed to operate like any other local TV station. I was told that this requirement was not there for the last 14 years they had been operating in Malaysia.

“These acts are seriously undermining the independence, freedom and professionalism of TV stations such as Al Jazeera and other media in producing and airing programmes of global standards.”

The license requirement announcement by Finas has come under heavy criticism by many quarters as it would affect all forms of video production, including social media users who uploaded videos onto platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Twitter.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera insisted its “101 East” weekly current affairs show which aired the two documentaries did not fall into the category of filming and requiring a licence.

Several experts told Malaysiakini that enforcement of Section 22(1) of the Finas Act 1981 on licensing requirements could have wide-ranging implications due to its broad definition of film.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah today told the Dewan Rakyat that all film producers must apply for a film production licence and filming certification letter even for personal social media videos.

However, Finas’ website lists one of the qualifying criteria for a licence as the applicant having a registered company with an RM50,000 paid-up capital.

‘Govt acting out of embarrassment’

Meanwhile, Article 19 Asia programme head Matthew Bugher called on the Malaysian authorities to cease ongoing investigations into the Al Jazeera documentary.

In a separate statement, he said the probe and the latest Finas requirement showed the government was “clearly acting out of embarrassment and a desire to punish Al Jazeera”.

“The case represents an arbitrary application of the law against journalists that reported on an important human rights issue,” said Bugher.

“[…]The (Al Jazeera) video was aired during a period of heightened intolerance against migrants and refugees in Malaysia as evidenced by increasingly discriminatory rhetoric.”

The actions against the international news organisation, as well as the questioning of other journalists and activists over various matters, highlighted Malaysia’s shrinking media freedom and civic space, he said.

“Authorities are clearly seeking control over the media and information environment, including by targeting investigative reporters and independent news outlets,” added Bugher.

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