Contributed by Anusha Gopala Krishnan, Officer, Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee
A meeting between the Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee (“CLC”) and the National Union of Journalists (“NUJ”) Central Working Committee 2014–2016 was held on 13 May 2016 (Friday) at 3:00 pm at Shah Village Hotel, Petaling Jaya. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss issues and laws pertaining to the freedom of press and free speech.
The representatives from CLC were Roger Chan Weng Keng, Chairperson of CLC; Firdaus Husni, Elaine Gan Peay Er, and Yvette Mah, Members of the Bar; and Anusha Gopala Krishnan, officer–in–charge of CLC.
The representatives from NUJ were as follows:
(1) President: Chin Sung Chew from Sin Chew Daily;
(2) Vice–President: Mohd Taufek Razak from Utusan Melayu;
(3) Vice–President: Basir b Zahrom from Berita Harian;
(4) General Secretary: Schave Jerome De Rozario from Star Publications;
(5) Deputy General Secretary: Mohd Hidhir Basarudin from Utusan Melayu;
(6) Member: Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias from Berita Harian; and
(7) Executive Secretary: Dr Richard Phillips from NUJ.
NUJ explained that it has eight branches with a total of 1,500 members, and that online journalists are not eligible to join. NUJ is trying very hard to include online journalists to ensure that their rights are protected too. However, the process of obtaining approval from the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia for this inclusion is a lengthy and complex procedure. NUJ sought the Bar Council’s help to bring online journalists into the fold.
NUJ also stated that section 6 of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 (“Act”) is used arbitrarily by employers. Section 6 of the Act provides that:
A workman intending to carry out his duties or to exercise his rights as an officer of a trade union shall apply in writing to his employer for leave of absence stating the durations of and the purposes for which such leave is applied for and the employer shall grant the application for leave if the duration of the leave applied for is for a period that is no longer than what is reasonably required for the purposes stated in the application:Provided that a workman shall not be entitled to leave with pay for the duration of his absence if the purposes for which he is absent from work are not to represent the members of his trade union in relation to industrial matters concerning his employer.
Journalists who are also officers of NUJ are impeded from performing their duties as union officers. The common scenario is where employers grant leave but deduct the salary of the journalists. This discourages journalists from fulfilling their role as union officers. Apart from that, journalists who are promoted to manager or executive level are forced to give up their membership at NUJ. This ultimately results in oppression of freedom of press, and the rights of journalists are compromised all the time. The media is controlled by political parties, and journalists are penalised for doing their jobs. There are instances where journalists are compelled to reveal their sources and are restricted from reporting certain cases that are affiliated with the government.
The plight of these journalists is worsened when the employers do not support them when crisis arises, and they are forced to face the consequences. The failure of employers to protect the rights of the journalists leads them to violate their journalistic ethics.
Roger Chan Weng Keng stated that the Bar Council will assist NUJ in any way possible. He further stated that freedom of press is crucial to ensure a vibrant democratic system and requested that NUJ officially write in to the Bar Council on this matter, and CLC will then take the matter forward.
Schave Jerome De Rozario suggested that both NUJ and CLC should collaborate to raise awareness on press freedom. Firdaus Husni then provided an overview on the CLC’s MyConsti project, and recommended that a workshop on press freedom be conducted, to educate journalists on their rights. This can be a potential area of collaboration between the two bodies.
Dr Richard Phillips suggested that CLC circulate to NUJ the press statements issued by the Bar Council relating to press freedom, to enable NUJ to upload them on its website as a concerted effort to raise awareness.