GEORGETOWN, Sept 6 – Media practitioners in Penang today urged the police to work with the press to uphold justice and to stop attempts by certain politicians to infringe on journalists and suppress the truth. They also called on the police to drop all charges against a Malaysiakini journalist who was arrested last week and investigated under the Sedition Act. The Penang Press Club, Pertubuhan Wartawan dan Jurugambar Media Cina Pulau Pinang (Pewaju), Seberang Prai Journalist Association, Penang Press Employees’ Cooperative Society Ltd, and the Journalist Union of North Malaya delivered their joint memorandum with the demands to state police chief Datuk Abdul Rahim Hanafi today. The group urged the police to work with the media for the sake of justice and to stop “heavy-handed attempts by certain politicians to infringe on journalists and suppress the truth”.
The group also expressed concern that there were “attempts by politicians with hidden agenda to undermine the healthy relationship that the press and the police have cultivated over the years”. “We hope the police will take steps to ensure that these dark and hidden forces do not impede its mission and vision of protecting citizens, including journalists,” they said in the two-paged memorandum. The group also called on politicians from both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional to defend the rights of journalists to be able to work in an environment “without fear or intimidation from forces that want to silence and oppress the media” in the country. “We call on politicians from both sides of the divide to publicly defend Press rights and help us resist any attempts to silence us.
“Journalists play a critical role in society and criminalising our work is unacceptable. “We are currently finding ourselves in the front lines of the struggle for freedom and justice with little or no safety net,” the group said. Inspector Yusmar Salim accepted the memorandum on Rahim’s behalf at the main entrance of the Penang police headquarters in George Town. In the memorandum, the groups declared their solidarity with the Malaysiakini journalist Susan Loone, who was arrested by the Penang police last week for carrying out her duties. “We urge the police to drop all charges against her inmediately. “We invite every believer of free journalism to show their solidarity and support members of the press, and call on the police to provide a safe environment for journalists and photographers to carry out their responsibilities without fear or favour,” the group said.
Loone, who is an assistant editor at the news portal, is currently being investigated for sedition over an article on Monday which said that the police had allegedly treated Penang exco Phee Boon Poh of the DAP like a criminal. Loone had allegedly phoned Phee for an interview early Monday morning when the latter was being detained by the police over the illegal Voluntary Patrol Unit (PPS) – a state-run organisation he chaired. In her article “Exco man grilled for four hours, treated like a criminal”, that was also translated into Malay (“Disoal siasat selama 4 jam, dakwa dilayan seperti penjenayah”) for Malaysiakini’s Malay language site, Loone quoted Phee as saying that he had been “treated like a criminal” while in detention. On Tuesday, a day after her article was published, 10 police reports were lodged against her and Phee for allegedly defaming the police. The reports were lodged by Malay rights group Perkasa and 13 other non-governmental organisations who call themselves “The Coalition of Penang Malay Representatives”.
The group of media practitioners claimed that the use of the Sedition Act against Loone for her phone interview with Phee could only be construed as “overzealous” and “political victimisation”. They said any form of political victimisation and demands on reporters to take out certain lines in their reporting went against the fundamental role that the public demands of the profession. “This is the second time in recent years that our fellow reporter had been victimised for straightforward reporting. “In 2008, Penang-based Sin Chew Daily journalist Tan Hoon Cheng was arrested under the draconian Internal Security Act for simply reporting the remarks made by a politician,” the group of media practitioners said.
Tan reported the infamous “pendatang” (immigrants) remark made by Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail during the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign in 2008. The remark was deemed offensive to the Chinese community. After her article was published, her newspaper company was issued a show-cause letter and shortly later, she was detained under the ISA. She was released 24 hours later. The then home minister Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar reportedly said Tan was detained because “her safety was under threat”. Due to the incidents affecting journalists, the media groups said they were also supporting the Bar Council’s campaign to get the Sedition Act repealed.