Harassment and intimidation against the media.
Several media advocacy groups and the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) have condemned the authorities for opening investigations over a Free Malaysia Today report regarding the government’s tardy response to flooding in Selangor on Dec 17 last year.
According to The Rakyat Post, FMT reporter Sean Augustin has been summoned for questioning tomorrow over the report published on Dec 21 that year.
The report ‘Fed up of waiting, the military rolls into flood relief’ had quoted anonymous sources claiming that the Malaysian Armed Forces had initiated flood evacuation operations without clearance from the National Disaster Management Agency, while the Selangor government was supposedly reluctant to get the military involved.
In a statement, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) decried the investigation as harassment and intimidation against the media.
It said journalists have a responsibility to hold the government accountable especially in a time of crisis but must also keep misinformation in check by channelling fact-based news in a timely and analytical manner.
“This is critical in countering any myths or misleading facts related to state measures.
“Therefore, the government should be proactive in responding to allegations and claims highlighted by the media – not restrict and punish the media for doing its critical reporting job,” it said.
Likewise, Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) said the media has a right to raise questions without interference while authorities have the right and responsibility to give explanations.
It also advocated for the formation of a media council for the industry to self-regulate and resolve disputes involving the media without an official investigation.
The media also has a right to withhold the identity of anonymous sources, it said, citing court precedence.
It added that authorities should be forthcoming when summoning media workers for questioning whether they are being called as a witness to assist investigations or otherwise, and whether police reports have been made against them.
“This would assist the media in making preparations, including to exercise the right to be accompanied by a lawyer, and to speed up the questioning process,” it said.
Muda, meanwhile, said authorities should be giving priority to flood relief efforts and combatting crime rather than investigating journalists performing their duties.
“Muda rejects any action that can be seen as a threat to the media and reporters, which is a backbone of the nation’s democracy,” said the party’s vice-president Lim Wei Jiet today.
Responding to the FMT report, Malaysian Armed Forces chief Affendi Buang had previously told reporters that its personnel had been on stand-by two months earlier and did not need instructions to initiate flood relief efforts.
Nadma director-general Aminuddin Hassim had also denied the report, describing it as “made up”. – Malaysiakini