Public should throw support behind media on the Lingam video inquiry findings

CIJ and WAMI call for the retraction of police report on three dailies and for the public to support journalists who dare to be brave to report the truth. The Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister's Department has lodged a police report against The Star, New Straits Times and Berita Harian for reporting on the findings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Lingam video scandal ahead of its release by the Cabinet on Friday.



Kuala Lumpur: The Centre for Independent Journalism and the Writers' Alliance for Media Independence have condemned the action by the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister's Department to lodge a police report against three newspapers that published the findings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry in to the Lingam video scandal ahead of its release by Cabinet on Friday 16 May.

CIJ executive Director V Gayathry said the inquiry was of such high importance that the public must be informed of the findings, truthfully and in a timely manner and that the journalists should not be targeted for exposing them before the official release.

"It is absurd that the Cabinet would have the prerogative to the report and to decide whether to release it or not. Given the importance of the issue that has serious implications to the administration of justice in this country, it is imperative that the document be made public. It is ridiculous that the report was restricted or embargoes as the report was already presented to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on 9 May," she said in a statement. The three newspapers are The Star, New Straits Times and Berita Harian. She added that in this case, the Official Secrets Act, which provides for the classification of public documents as secret, top secret, restricted or confidential, is only a tool to intimidate and punish those who expose information in public interest.

"The Prime Minister's office should retract the report immediately and we call on all journalists and the public to throw their support behind the media that have been doing their jobs.

"The OSA must be repealed immediately and replaced by a Freedom of Information law that will ensure the journalists and the public have access to public information," she added.

She stressed that the inquiry into the Lingam video scandal was made public and everyone had access to the questions and replies on issues that were related to the independence of the judiciary and the selection of judges, among others.

"We need to ask why such a document was restricted in the first place? The hearings were public and rightfully the public should be informed of the results. The journalists had a duty to report the findings immediately and they used professional standards in delivering their news stories.

"Between scoops of such an important issue and the restriction placed under the OSA, any just and open administration should recognise the value of the former," she added.

CIJ and WAMI also expressed concenrn that journalists and the media often become the first target when exposes are made on corruption and abuses of power.

Referring to the questioning of several journalists by police over the last few weeks, CIJ and WAMI call on the media companies and the National Union of Journalists to ensure that any journalists called in by the police must be accompanied by the editors and lawyers to avoid the possibility of intimidation or harassment.

"We reject the "liberty" available to the police to summon the journalists at any time and without necessarily going through the employer or their lawyers."

Issued by the Centre for Independent Journalism and Writers' Alliance for Media Independence. Inquiries, please call 016-3123478.