Queries over Jasa’s Revival Persist

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Questions have been raised over the government’s move to resurrect the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) when its said functions appear to overlap with the existing Information Department.

The Communications and Multimedia Ministry previously explained that Jasa’s RM85.5 million Budget 2021 allocation was to enable it to hire skilled staff and procure software to disseminate information in an “orderly, strategic and targeted manner” to all strata of society.

The unit will also be used to combat Covid-19 related disinformation as well as to promote patriotism and unity.

To Mandeep Singh, who had served as special functions officer to former communications and multimedia minister Gobind Singh Deo, these roles were already being carried out by the Information Department (Jabatan Penerangan, or Japen).

In his experience at the ministry, he saw that Japen already had the staff, expertise, equipment and reach needed to communicate government information and policies to the ground.

“They are a legitimate agency under the government, and it is their role to go down and explain government initiatives to the public.

Koh Jun Lin/Malaysiakini

“Under Japen, they have a strategic communications department where they have the tools to monitor and analyse social media,” he shared.

Headed and staffed by civil servants, Mandeep said Japen had at least 169 offices nationwide with its headquarters in Putrajaya.

The department routinely distributes flyers at public places and also organises “Info On Wheels” events to communicate government initiatives.

It also has a video content channel called JapenTV and commands a significant following on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“So why do you need Jasa? There is no need,” Mandeep opined.

To combat disinformation, especially on Covid-19, the ministry presently uses the Sebenarnya platform to alert the public about false information. The platform is available as both a website and a smartphone application.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has called on the Communications and Multimedia Ministry to provide a clear and credible rationale for reviving Jasa.

In a statement today, CIJ executive director Wathshlah G Naidu said the ministry’s previous statement, explaining the need for the controversial department, failed to address the public’s interest in demanding an academic and expert rationale.

“In the interests of accountability and transparency, we call on the ministry to provide a clear and credible rationale that would identify the scope of strategic responses and justify the need for such an inflated budget that comes at the expense of the public’s current medical and socio-economic needs and priorities.”

Wathshlah said while there is a legitimate need to address disinformation and support effective disclosure of genuine Covid-19 information and other related measures, any attempt by the government to counter misinformation cannot undermine democratic guarantees and fundamental freedoms.

She said the funds for the move should instead be channelled to more productive means of battling the pandemic.