The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is concerned that the fate of two newspapers in Malaysia is being left hanging by the authorities following the expiration of their licence, and the debilitating effect this has had on their coverage of news in
the run-up to the nationwide elections.
The annually renewable publishing permits for the Tamil-language Makkal Osai and the Mandarin-language Oriental Daily lapsed in December 2007 and have not been approved by outgoing Deputy Internal Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow, reports the
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).
The two newspapers, seen to be more critical than the other mainstream media closely tied to the government, have had to show a different slant after Parliament was dissolved for a general election on 8 March 2008.
The Oriental Daily editor has reportedly issued a set of guidelines on election coverage, which includes no frontpage coverage for the opposition.
CIJ, which is monitoring the media's election coverage, observes that Makkal Osai has started to publish news favouring the incumbent government, joining the usual clamour of mainstream newspapers.
We are concerned that the requirement for a publication permit has been effective in silencing critical voices and controlling any attempt for editorial independence. By delaying approval but allowing the paper to continue operating using lapsed
permits, the caretaker government is putting the papers at its mercy and sending a signal to their owners to be compliant, CIJ said in its release.
Malaysian officials have rejected a Tamil-language newspaper's application for a publishing permit - an annual requirement for periodicals under the draconian Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) - in effect, banning the daily that had existed
since the early 1990s.
The publishing permit of Makkal Osai (The People's Voice) expired on 15 October 2007. The newspaper, which had a staff of more than 100,
had continued publishing upon informal assurances from the authorities that it could while its application for a fresh licence awaited approval.
On 16 April 2008, Makkal Osai received a letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs informing the daily of the rejection but giving no reason for the ban. However, Home Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar later alleged that the daily had violated
guidelines threatening racial harmony. The minister did not explain nor specify the objectionable contents.
Although the law states that the minister's decision is final and cannot be challenged in court, Makkal Osai officers have said they will file an appeal.
Malaysia has long used a licencing regime to keep a short leash on all publications, leading to chronic self-censorship in many newsrooms.
However, the prospects of saving "Makkal Osai" may not be as bleak as before following the political sea change in Malaysia which saw five states out of 14 falling into the hands of the Federal-level opposition parties.
CIJ and the Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) called on these five states "to offer the owners of 'Makkal Osai' an opportunity to publish" there.
WAMI chairperson Wong Chin Huat cited Section 25 of the PPPA as the loophole that would allow this possibility: We can see 'Makkal Osai' back on the news stands tomorrow if any of the state governments will issue an authorisation letter today for the
daily to publish for the state. And no newspaper from now on (need) be afraid (of having their publication permit withdrawn).
Malaysia's government lifted the ban on a newspaper catering to ethnic minority Indians, but denied caving in to criticism that it was stifling press freedom.
The Home Ministry told the Tamil-language Makkal Osai , or People's Voice, last week that its operating license had not been renewed. Authorities subsequently said the newspaper flouted media guidelines on how racial issues should be reported.
The newspaper's general manager, S.M. Periasamy, said he received a letter from the ministry Thursday informing him that the ban had been dropped. No reasons or conditions were given, and the newspaper expects to resume publication Saturday, Periasamy
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar confirmed he approved a new annual permit for Makkal Osai , saying its editors have assured the government that: they will abide by the guidelines and contribute to our nation-building efforts.
He denied that the government had backtracked because of fierce criticism by opposition leaders and media activists. Syed Hamid had said last week he was considering doing away with the annual licensing and switching to licenses that only need to be
issued once, saying the country needs press freedom in order for us to have a check and balance in government.
Malaysia's government has imposed a ban on two main opposition newspapers, ahead of key political developments.
Harakah and Suara Keadilan have been told they cannot publish for the next three months, with immediate effect.
It comes a week before the expected designation of a new and controversial prime minister, Najib Razak, and two weeks before important by-elections.
Analysts say the government, which has faced strong opposition challenges, is increasingly intolerant of criticism.
This latest suppression underscores the insecurity and fear that Najib and his supporters feel about their political situation, Tian Chua, a spokesman for Suara Keadilan , is quoted by AFP news agency as saying: We fear that this action
by the government is a prelude to a general clampdown on press freedom in Malaysia .
The Centre for Independent Journalism strongly disagrees with calls to suspend Malay daily Utusan Malaysia for publishing commentary with racial undertone and to penalise its author, who writes under the pseudonym Awang Selamat, with the Sedition
On 3 June, the Malaysian Indian Congress president, S. Samy Vellu urged the authorities to charge Awang Selamat, under the Sedition Act. This followed the publication of an article Malays betrayed? published in the daily's column on 31 May,
in which non-Malays were said to have over demanded their rights.
Open and civil discussions on race and religion are instrumental for nation-building. Through such discussion, the norms and mores of free expression, such as the ethical boundaries would evolve. But to ban certain views, especially by giving absolute
powers to the state to censor, is a grave violation of freedom of expression for the individual and the community.
We call on all political leaders and opinion leaders to emphasize the importance of dialogue and debates and refrain from demanding for the use of undemocratic laws. We also urge the editors of Utusan Malaysia to create spaces in the newspaper for
those with differing views and opinions on the issue and show that it is interested in constructive engagement.
The Malaysian government has suspended the publication of a main opposition newspaper in a move political rivals criticised as
a crackdown on dissent.
Suara Keadilan, run by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Keadilan party, ran into trouble after the authorities said it violated publishing laws with a report this month which claimed a government agency is bankrupt.
The Home Ministry, which oversees Malaysia's newspapers, said it will not renew Suara Keadilan's permit as it was not satisfied with the paper's explanation for the allegedly inaccurate report.
A letter will be issued to inform the printer that it is not allowed to print until a decision is made on the renewal of its permit, the ministry said in a statement.
A fourth newspaper has been forced to close in Kuala Lumpur following the government's crackdown on publishing licenses. The suspension of Hakhah's printing office follows the closure of the newspapers Suara Keadilan, Kabar Era Pakatan and Rocket on 30
Suara Keadilan, a leading critical voice in Malaysia, is reported to have been shut down for publishing false news that could incite public unrest. Local activists claim that Prime Minister Najib Razak's government is attempting to silence critical
publications ahead of national elections.
A landmark Malaysian court ruling that upheld an independent news portal's right to publish a newspaper has placed a spotlight on Prime Minister Najib Razak's pledge to loosen controls on the press.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court on October 1 ruled in favour of Malaysiakini.com's challenge against a refusal to issue a publishing licence to the site, which is known for content often highly critical of the government.
Najib has positioned himself as if he was a reformer in a bid to recapture the support of voters who in 2008 handed his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition its worst polls showing ever. In April, he lifted a rule that forced publications to renew their
printing permits annually---which gave the government leverage to ensure compliant coverage---but the home ministry still has the power to deny or revoke licences.
For this, and other reasons, Malaysia's opposition has dismissed the reform pledges as window-dressing for the election, and the court ruling could now put pressure on Najib to prove them wrong.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes a Kuala Lumpur appeal court decision rejecting an appeal by the government and interior ministry against a court ruling in favour of allowing the Malaysiakini news website to publish a print version:
Yesterday's ruling is encouraging for freedom of information in Malaysia.
The government's behaviour is clearly indicative of a desire to control the media, while the judicial system seems opposed to this. But caution is needed. The government will probably challenge this latest decision and Malaysiakini has yet to obtain a
licence to print, which only the interior ministry can issue.
As we pointed out in an open letter to the prime minister in May 2012, real progress is still needed for freedom of information in Malaysia. We offer our full support for independent media and Malaysiakini in their efforts to resist government
Malaysian journalists and activists banded together and organized a red pencil protest early this month in reaction to the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs to suspend news weekly magazine The Heat for an indefinite period. Protesters
accused authorities of suspending The Heat in retaliation for publishing a story on the spending habits of the Prime Minister and his wife.
More than 200 people gathered to demonstrate in downtown Kuala Lumpur, the country's capital. Participants belonged to the Gerakan Media Marah ( Geramm ) or Angry Media Movement, a loose coalition of journalists which was formed to push for greater media
freedom in the country.
During the protest, red pencils were broken in half to symbolize the violence perpetrated against the media. Fathi Aris Omar, spokesman of Geramm and editor of online media site Malaysiakini, explained further the meaning of the red pencil:
The red pencil represents journalists who were injured (in the past, by the authorities) and a culture of control by the powers that be.
Listen to the breaking sound. That is the suffering of journalists and the media when it is broken .