Malaysia is not known for its freedom of speech and freedom of press. Such is when the Malaysian police conducted a raid on Al Jazeera’s office jointly with the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission back in 4 August, 2020.
I believe that it is important for us to look at the main concern for the need of having restrictive legislation for media regulations and censorship in Malaysia. At large, general censorship occurs for a variety of reasons such as national security, to control obscenity, child pornography, hate speech, to protect children or other vulnerable groups, to promote or restrict political or religious views, and to prevent slander and libel.
However, is that truly for most cases?
Let’s look at the gravity of having limitations on freedom of speech and freedom of press. In essence, regulations and censorship exist to avoid the rises of negative consequences on various issues that could affect one party or one entity. That being said, when it is the responsibility of the press and journalists to cover such issues with no direct implication of practice when it comes to reporting, it begs the question on who/what they are directly associated with? And, how truthful and accurate those reports are when it reflects the groups that are affected?
The issue, at hand, revolves around the government reaching for a safety net to provide an outlook that is mostly good and reflect the best interest of the people, even if that is not the case.
Hence, the incident that happened to Al Jazeera in Malaysia. The primary reason for this was the documentary that was made by them on the arrests of undocumented migrants in the country.
How was that wrong from their side?
My answer is that: it was not wrong. But, the Malaysian government thought it was. What was included from the police was that they called the documentary’s reporting misleading and said it would be investigated under the colonial-era Sedition Act for inciting unrest and racial and religious tensions.
The events that followed after the raid were the consequences that were faced by the individuals and the staff that were involved in the documentary. Some of them included abuse, death threats and the disclosure of their personal details on social media. Now, that is the gravity of having limitations on speech and press freedom.
Freedom of speech and press ≠ freedom from consequences.
But, that shouldn’t be the case. Limiting those freedoms would only perpetuate the larger issues that are needed to be solved in the first place by the government. It gives a window of opportunity to divert the focus onto the reports and articles more rather than what they consist of.
The list goes on when it comes to government imposed regulations and censorship on the media in Malaysia. Namely they are:
This is important to take note to reflect the severity of limitations that exist in terms of implementation and practice on press and speech. The media is considered to be the platform where democratisation and the processes are approached when it comes to governing a nation. Through those acts being overtly practiced, we can see that democracy is not sanctioned and promoted.
I would like to quote Dr Mahathir’s words regarding his point of view on democracy:
“Democracy is not the easiest way to govern a country, more often than not it fails to bring about stability, much less prosperity. It is disruptive because it tends to encourage sudden changes in policies and directions with each change in government.”
To further exemplify the undemocratic practices through limiting press freedom and speech freedom, the recent case of a 24-year-old man who recorded visuals of a team of policemen conducting a raid with his cellphone and aired it through Facebook Live. He was detained at a house in Petaling Jaya on 7 November. The Inspector-General of Police said,
“The police always respect the freedom of speech, but it must be within a scope that is allowed under the law.”
My question is: how is it considered as freedom of speech when there are external influences that restrict the freedom of criticising and reacting to certain issues that are wrong?
To a certain extent, although I believe it was intended to be positive when all the legislations were first implemented, however the nature of the acts are flexible and malleable that they can be exploited to benefit those who are in charge.
In all, to look through the perspective of maintaining the democracy within a society, there shouldn’t be a limitation or restriction on the freedom of speech and freedom of press. The primary reason that the media cover the issues such as the undocumented migrant workers reflect the initiatives that should be taken by the government and the administration that the cases should be alleviated with proper measures to avoid further repercussions. Representing MSGA, we believe that our freedom when it comes to speech and opinions through our advocacy initiatives should not be limited as we want to represent the Malaysian society to the best that we can. But, when we are unable to do so, the implication lies further from our actions, and it affects every possible group across all demographics. And again, that should not be the case. Improving media freedom should be taken into consideration moving forward to prevent setbacks that would be caused by those legislations. Let them speak their mind when they are right. Do not silence and condemn them.
By: Ungku ‘Arifin
Vice President of Advocacy 2020/2021