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Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Monday, 3rd May 2010:

Press freedom central to a transparent, accountable & democratic nation

May 3rd was declared to be World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness about the importance of press freedom.

It was also a call to remind governments of their duties to allow for the free flow of information and respect the right to freedom of expression.

Malaysia ranks 131 in the Press Freedom Index 2009, by Reporters Without Borders. This ranking is spot on given the growing restrictions placed on both foreign and local media workers in the country.

The resignation of a senior producer with NTV7 further highlighted the state of the local media in Malaysia. Wong has cited unreasonable restrictions, overzealous self-censorship and government interference as reasons for him calling it quits.

Then TV 2 producer, Chou Z Lam also complained of political interference.

It is an open secret that the local media is under the thumb of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government as the media organizations are owned by UMNO and Barisan-linked companies.

News websites and blogs have mushroomed in the recent years as an alternative to the state-controlled media which continues to repeat the government mantra. The Barisan relies heavily on the government-friendly media to influence public opinion, while clamping down on bloggers and independent news portals.

The 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act, Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998, Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act and Sedition Act are used to harass bloggers and journalists.

Media organizations also run the risk of not having their annual publishing licenses renewed as required by the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

Raja Petra Kamaruddin is the pet peeve of the officials. His explosive writings linking the prime minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife to the submarines scandal which involved billions of dollars in kickbacks and the murder of a Mongolian model landed him in hot soup. The officials are now threatening to withdraw his citizenship and issue an international arrest warrant against him.

Popular independent news website Malaysiakini has been repeatedly harassed, with officials seizing their computers.

Rule of law, minority rights, free and fair elections, freedom of expression and association depends on a free press. A free press functions as a watchdog for an open, accountable and transparent and democratic nation.

In Malaysia, the government has expressed selective outrage on foreign and independent media and blogs against the likes of local dailies like Utusan Malaysia which has repeatedly printed article which further took a whack on declining racial unity in the country.

According to a recent survey released by Freedom House, global press freedom declined in 2009, with setbacks registered in almost every region in the world. The study, ‘Freedom of the Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence’, reported that press freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year, producing a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a Free press.

We could make a difference.

Therefore as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, I call upon the Malaysian government to abolish the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to allow for an open, transparent and an accountable government.

* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang



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