Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah greeting to mark the World Press Freedom Day on 3rd May in his Facebook, is an empty and meaningless gesture when Malaysia has nothing to celebrate about. The PN government continues to be in denial about the reasons behind Malaysia slipping down 18 rungs from No. 101 in 2020, on Reporters Without Border’s (RSF) 2021 annual press freedom index to No. 119, lower even than Indonesia ranked at 113. Malaysia’s position would even be worse if the latest declaration of Emergency suspending Parliament and the new anti-fake news law were taken into account.
Police investigating a news anchor at Astro Awani for allegedly slandering police on television surrounding the controversy of RM50,000 compound issued to a couple of small traders in Kelantan, and the arrest of social activist-artist Fahmi Reza on April 23 over a satire, is a damning indictment against World Press Freedom Day. Such action against Awani will only deter investigative reporting, promoting transparency and accountability.
The questioning of cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque(Zunar) by the Padang Terap police headquarters in Kedah over his cartoon, lampooning the PAS Kedah Menteri Besar for cancelling the Thaipusam holiday, can easily be considered as an act of silencing dissent. The Home Ministry’s summoning Malaysiakini and China Press, over their factual report of then Deputy Inspector-General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani’s remarks on a threat of rape made against a teenager, does not respect freedom of expression.
Normally, action against those dissenting against the government is taken under Section 504 of the Penal Code that criminalises insults intended to “provoke a breach of peace”, and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act. Under Section 504, a person found guilty can be jailed for two years, fined, or both. Meanwhile, Section 233, which covers abuse of network facilities, is punishable with a fine of RM50,000, jail for a year, or both.
RSF went on to say that to protect against the government’s offensive, many journalists have had to censor themselves. There is not only self-censorship, but perhaps the reason why the biggest language papers from the mainstream media especially the MCA-controlled Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, have shed their neutrality and previous independence under PH by adopting a pro-government approach.
The biggest flaw about such anti-fake news law is double-standards in being applied only against the opposition but not against pro-government supporters. The PN government always blame the people but refuse to take responsibility for their unforgivable failure and disgraceful incompetence to contain and manage the 3rd wave of COVID-19 infections. Will Saifuddin act under the anti-fake news law against the latest controversy where Bazar Ramadan hawkers are being made the scapegoat and blamed for causing the escalating COVID-19 just to pursue exorbitant profiteering during the holy fasting month?