Shun self-censorship, public needs information during by-elections
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is troubled to hear of another
alleged self-censorship by a TV station coming on the heels of a case exposed
just last week and with the World Press Freedom Day ahead.
This time round, it is in one of the television stations,
TV2, of state-owned broadcaster Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM), which axed
a current affairs series after screening the first couple of episodes on 26 and 27 April.
The programme’s producer, Chow Z-Lam, alleged in a 27 April press
statement that his 10-episode daily programme about the social and economic
plight of indigenous people displaced by the Bakun Dam project in the Sarawak state
was shelved after just two episodes on air because of an impending by-election
in the state. He said he was told this by his superior, Director of News Jumat
Engson, who said that the series is better postponed to after the election due
to the content's "sensitive element". Chow said that although Jumat
claimed responsibility for the decision, he has reason to believe the
instruction came from someone higher, Director of Broadcasting Ibrahim Yahaya.
Chow said he had tried approaching Deputy Minister of Information Ng Sai Kee
for help, but to no avail.
Both the RTM corporate communication department and TV2 office have declined
comment, while Jumat, Ibrahim and his deputy Norhyati Ismail were unavailable
for comment when contacted by CIJ.
Chow's exposé, if true, paints another stark picture of the media being complicit
in depriving the public of their right to be heard – in the case of the
subjects of his programme – and right to information – in the case of the
larger audience. It is distressing to note that in both the NTV7 and RTM cases,
the by-election was cited as the excuse for abandoning discussion of current
In this case, RTM should have seized the by-election as an
opportunity to highlight and bring to the attention of the Federal Government the
problem of indigenous peoples affected by the Bakun project, which has been
hanging since 1998. The indigenous groups are by far the poorest and most marginalised
of peoples in the country, whose afflictions over their ancestral land are a
protracted issue owing to censorship by the mainstream media, which are all owned
by the ruling government or cronies with vested interest in the issue.
As distressing as the situation is, CIJ salutes the two journalists, Chow and
former NTV7 producer Joshua Wong, for taking a courageous stand to publicly
defend the integrity of their work and to speak up against political censorship.
Self-censorship is usually a shushed-up matter in newsrooms, and journalists
affected are seldom inclined to expose them for fear of affecting their rice
bowl in view of the harsh laws against media.
While NTV7’s Wong has resigned over his case, Chow is still
under RTM's employment, though he has expressed pessimism about his contract being
renewed in January 2011.
On behalf of the public, CIJ would like to ask for a
clarification from Director of Broadcasting Ibrahim Yahaya on the matter. As an
institution funded by taxpayers, RTM is more than duty-bound to serve the
interest of the public in providing truthful and balanced news.
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.