Media should uphold responsibilities, not self-censor

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned about The Star
newspaper's spiking of a column about the shari'ah law, following the
show-cause letter issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs for an earlier
article on a
related topic. Once again, the media resorts to self-censorship in
favour of the state and Muslim pressure groups, instead of upholding
its check and balance role.

On 2 March,
social activist and commentator Marina Mahathir, who has been writing
for the Star for 20 years, updated on her blog that her Musings column
— slated for publication on 3 March in The Star — was spiked. Marina said the reason for The Star's
censorship was to avoid the risk of losing its publication permit after
a show cause letter was recently issued over an article in February by
its managing editor P. Gunasegaram questioning the caning of three
Muslim women under the shari'ah law.

Although the media is restricted under the Printing Presses
and Publications Act (PPPA), resorting to self-censorship demonstrates
the medium's inability to read into readers' demand for the media to
provide them with informed and balanced views. The Star, which has one of the widest circulation in the country and recently launched its Malay weekly Mingguan mStar, clearly
has failed to respect the role of the media to provide different
perspectives in news, information and opinions that benefit the
public's right to information. It has caved in to pressures by the
authorities and the Muslim groups which lodged police report against
the paper, first by publishing a public apology and later by taking P. Gunasegaram's column, Persuasion, not Compulsion off its website.

As The Star
refused to publish Marina's column which argues that shari'ah laws are
man-made and like civil laws, should be open for debate, the writer
posted the entry on her blog instead.
This shows that, with the proliferation of online publishing platform,
the act of self-censorship is a futile one. When the censored content
surfaces online, it only entrenches the public impression that the
mainstream media is less reliable than their online counterpart. 

urges the media to uphold its responsibilities as the fourth estate,
and calls on the Government to enable an environment for the media to
operate freely. To achieve this end, the PPPA, as well as other
restrictive laws must be repealed.
Issued by
Yip Wai Fong
Communication and Publications Officer
The Centre for Independent Journalism,
Malaysia (CIJ) is a non-profit organisation that aspires for a society
that is democratic, just and free where all people will enjoy free
media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.