The Bar Council's International Malaysia Law Conference 2016 ("IMLC 2016") was held at The Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur from 21 to 23 Sept 2016.
By Puspawati Rosman
Social media users are among those who face a high risk of being penalised or prosecuted for expressing their views online. Those in media–related industries such as the print news publications, online news portals and radio stations also face pressure for the news they report and/or publish. Gayathry Venkiteswaran, the moderator of this session entitled “Independence of Media Ownership and Press Freedom: The Law and the Challenges”, described this as a “sad story” because the so–called pressure does not only come from the authorities, but also from the current practice of journalism itself.
The three speakers — Tan Lee Chin, Chief Content Officer of Media Chinese International Limited Group; Malek Ali, Chief Executive Officer of BFM 89.9: The Business Radio Station; and Shanmuga Kanesalingam, human rights lawyer, and Director of Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights — shared their expertise and experience in dealing with the issues.
The first speaker, Ms Tan, an active online journalist who runs a eekly online show, Pocketimes.my, and the online news portal, SinChew.com.my, said that the ways media–related laws are being enforced in this country are building a climate of fear and selfcensorship among the practitioners. She gave examples such as the Sedition Act 1948 that is used against journalists, the Defamation Act 1957, and the proposed amendment to the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 that includes a proposal to register all political bloggers.
Ms Tan was a journalist at the Sin Chew Daily print newspaper and thought that she would get more freedom working online but now realises that the Internet space is also getting narrower and being limited by the law. She expressed the need for an independent media council to regulate media ownership, and also to create awareness among media practitioners of their rights and the laws.
The second speaker, Mr Malek stated that the authorities, whilst enforcing media–related laws, do not always observe the rule of law. However interesting the interviews might be, the content needs to be informed to and approved by the relevant bodies. Each licence holder needs to provide its weekly transmission schedule and is bound by rules and regulations that prohibit certain types of content.
BFM radio station was once fined by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission after it broadcasted its interview with the famous Iranian–American religious scholar and author, Reza Aslan, regarding the usage of the word “Allah” among non–Muslims.
The final speaker for the session, Mr Shanmuga, presented slides entitled “Balancing Free Speech and National Security”, and stated that journalists should not be investigated unless the published content incites violence. He gave the example of the Johannesburg Principles, and talked about what constitutes a legitimate national security interest, which is subject to the requirements of proving the elements of, among others, the intention to incite imminent violence and actual violence.
Mr Shanmuga also provided some recommendations to overcome the issues. He was of the view that laws such as the Sedition Act 1948 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 need to be repealed in their entirety, and some provisions of the laws that link speech to imminent violence need to be amended.
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