The Kuala Lumpur-based Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has raised the alarm over two incidents that reflect the recent decline of press freedom in Malaysia.
In statements sent out to other media organizations through the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), of which the CIJ is an associate member, the CIJ decried the reported assault on Bernama photojournalist Hairul Nizam Baharin by auxiliary police on Jan. 9, 2011. Hairul Nizam was taken by the auxiliary police at a checkpoint, where he was allegedly punched, assaulted, and handcuffed before being brought to a police station for further questioning.
Police say Hairul Nizam got this treatment after refusing to stop and present his identification card.
“Journalists, press photographers, and for that matter, other individuals, should not be subject to such harassment and intimidation from the authorities when going about their duties,” the CIJ said in its statement.
In a separate statement, the CIJ also appealed to other media groups to put pressure on the management of the Malaysian daily Utusan Malaysia to stop plans to hold an “internal disciplinary action” against one of its journalists. The newspaper is owned by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling government.
The CIJ said journalist Hata Wahari, also the president of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Malaysia, was accused of tarnishing the image of his newspaper when he criticized his editors for having an agenda that was “about pleasing their political masters.”
The newspaper has already scheduled an internal inquiry on January 17. Media observers fear that the inquiry would more likely result in the sacking of Hata.
“Hata is the first NUJ president in more than a decade who has made an unequivocable stand for press freedom. He is apparently being punished now for his boldness in calling for the Utusan Malaysia chief editor to take responsibility for the many complaints about the daily which has been constantly criticized by media observers for its unethical and incendiary reporting that has overtly racist tones,” the CIJ statement said.
CIJ appealed to media groups all over the world to press the newspaper owners to respect press freedom and address the issues raised by Hata. Read the CIJ statement on Hata’s case here.