The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) disagrees with the Kelantan state government’s decision to bar "Utusan Malaysia" from state assembly proceedings and official functions involving Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat. CIJ views the barring of any media from state events as a suppression of the freedom of the press and an unhealthy precedent.
CIJ recognises that the mainstream media owned and controlled by the federal ruling party Barisan Nasional (BN) are often not fair in their coverage of the federal opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR). CIJ also acknowledges that "Utusan Malaysia", in particular, which is owned by the dominant component in BN, has been particularly critical of PR, often without giving PR politicians any right of reply. The paper has also been unethical and irresponsible in the past in its reporting on racial or religious issues.
However, if PR is interested in upholding media freedom, it should engage with the media, even hostile ones, and not bar them from events. With the existence of alternative media channels, it is now possible for PR to publicise their own views when they feel that the BN-controlled media has been unethical, unfair or inaccurate. Announcing in a press conference how a particular media has distorted an issue or wrongly reported an event, rather than barring the said media from official events, goes toward raising awareness on (un)ethical media practices.
This is not the first instance of a PR state government barring the media from their events. Both Penang and Kedah have also barred select media from state events in the past.
PR state governments are not private individuals or institutions that have the luxury of excluding the media from their functions. They are publicly elected governments which represent the people and their actions should be open to public scrutiny. If PR is serious about wanting to form the federal government in the future, it must start demonstrating that it is able to deal with unethical media without resorting to curbing media access.
However, CIJ also finds it ironic that Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim has seen it fit to criticise the Kelantan government for its ban, accusing them of wanting everything to be carried out according to their thinking. CIJ notes that it is the BN government that is still keeping repressive laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) in place and which controls much of the mainstream media. If the BN is indeed open to diverse views being expressed in the mainstream media, it should relinquish its ownership and control of the mainstream media, make publicly-funded media (Radio Televisyen Malaysia and BERNAMA) represent public interest, and repeal the PPPA without delay.
CIJ calls on all governments, whether BN or PR, to respect media freedom and, in the interests of accountability and good governance, to take steps to abolish all draconian laws which limit the press.