Malaysian mainstream media further demonise marginalised voices

November 27, 2007

Hindraf rallyThe Malaysian mainstream media, long shackled by repressive laws and their political masters, recently outdid themselves in toeing the official line by painting a dangerously lopsided picture of two rallies in the Kuala Lumpur capital that happened within weeks of each other.

That thousands joined both rallies, in a nation that has been conditioned to shun street protests as violent, was an obvious cry for attention to their causes.

Bersih rallyBut you wouldn’t know what they really had to say, or what really happened at the rallies, if you were to solely read New Straits Times and The Star, as revealed in content analyses by Aliran, a human rights NGO based in the northern island of Penang. See: Hindraf rally: Mainstream media deny stark reality at their own peril, Mainstream media demonising Bersih demonstrator and Bersih rally: The demonisation continue.

(Pictures courtesy of Malaysiakini)

Freest press in Southeast Asia?

October 23, 2007

rsf.jpegRSF’s 2007 press freedom index (rankings for Southeast Asia):

Cambodia tops the list (ranked 85 in the world), followed by Timor-Leste (94), Indonesia (100), Malaysia (124), Philippines (128), Thailand (135), Singapore (141), Laos (161), Vietnam (162), Burma (164). Find out why.

Brunei is not ranked due to lack of data.

‘International community must act on Burma’, Article 19

September 26, 2007

Thousands of Burmese have taken to the streets in peaceful demonstrations to protest the military regime. What started as a protest against fuel hike on August 15 has now turned into a massive people’s demonstration which includes the highly revered Buddhist monks.

Today, the junta fired tear gas to disperse protesters, who have defied threats by the military. So far, 80 demonstrators, including monks had been arrested. Press freedom remains one of the biggest casualties with communications cut-off, journalists threatened, and their cameras/memory cards confiscated by the police.

More violence is expected in the days to come despite calls by the International community to the military junta to handle the situation diplomatically.

In the midst of this crisis, Article 19, a human rights organisation with special focus on defence and promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide has called on the International community to join in full solidarity with the people of Burma and support their peaceful struggle for freedom of expression and democracy:

Dr Agnes Callamard, Article 19 executive director said in the statement “Even despite the relentless freedom of expression restrictions imposed on them, the Burmese people have joined together in an ardent and determined expression of their dissatisfaction towards the regime. We must now use our own freedom of expression to do the same.”

Read the rest of the statement here.

Please support the call by Article 19, by distributing this statement to all relevant persons, organisations and officials. You can start by sending to your respective embassies, especially those of ASEAN countries, to pressure them to immediately and diplomatically engage with Burma on this growing crisis.

Malaysian High Court throws out blogger’s remand review

September 18, 2007

The Malaysian High Court ruled yesterday that blogger Nathaniel Tan’s remand review was “academic and that any judgement made would not make any difference”.

Tan, who is also an Opposition activist, said the revision of his remand was an attempt to set a precedent that will stop the police from “kidnapping clearly innocent citizens, and using monkey tricks to deny arrestees their right to confer with legal counsel”.

He was “picked up” on 13 July and later charged under the Official Secrets Act for an anonymous comment left on his blog (see SEAPA alerts of 18 and 16 July 2007). He was remanded for four days and released on 17 July.

Read his blog for more information.

Clueless Malaysian police behind arrest of blogger

August 8, 2007

Malaysian opposition activist Nathaniel Tan, who was arrested for a comment on his blog left by an anonymous visitor (see SEAPA alerts of 18 and 16 July 2007), shares a disconcerting revelation upon his release:

“The fact that I appear to be the best suspect they could arrest in relation to this case indicates that the police do not understand how the Internet works, and are at a complete loss as to how to handle true cyber crime .  .  . [and] portend[s] badly for Malaysia’s ability to deal with true cyber crime.”

Aside from displaying an appalling lack of adherence to proper police procedures, Tan noted, “[t]he government and police appear to be sending a signal that while irresponsible bloggers roam free, responsible bloggers who moderate their comments and put a name to their writing are more likely to end up as targets. This policy could not possibly be more ill formed and counterproductive”.

See Tan’s statement in full.

Philippine anti-terror law threatens civil liberties

July 17, 2007

The Human Security Act, a new law in the Philippines that allows arbitrary use of state machinery to fight terror, seriously undermines the country’s constitutional protection for civil liberties, argues Florin T. Hilbayin in a commentary published on the on 15 July 2007.

Hilbay, a law professor at the University of the Philippines, outlines the dangerous implications of the law that criminalises the sowing and creation of “widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to the unlawful demand”.

Among others, in allowing punishment for “conspiracy to commit terrorism”, the law can be easily abused to curb dissenting speech. As well, a new tool – the warrant of surveillance – which allows the authorities to spy on terror suspects based on their mere hunch, is a clear infringement of privacy.

Read Hilbay’s objections in full here.

Down the slippery slope of Internet censorship in Thailand…and what maketh a telecoms minister

June 12, 2007

The Thai interim government has gained some notoriety for its assault on the Internet, particularly after it blocked for refusing to take down a video clip that allegedly insulted the monarchy. Local English daily Bangkok Post finds out what it actually takes to monitor the Internet and how that slippery slope of censorship is manoeuvred.

‘Licenced’ by the Criminal Code and Council for Democratic Reform’s announcement no. 5, a team of six Telecoms staff must be prepared to stay back or return to work at night when tipped of websites that may contain material that is pornographic, lese majeste, or damaging to national security. They also receive orders from a national security unit that monitors web content. Currently, their eyes are trained on around 10 websites, including the sometimes-blocked “Hi-Thaksin” website.

Well, to block or not? As expected, this is a subjective and difficult decision in reality. Many a night is spent debating whether a website should be censored, even with the help of the deciding factor: the element of incitement to gather and demonstrate. Failing a consensus, the team would refer to a ministerial committee supervising Internet filtering. Once the decision is made, they will ask either the Internet service provider (ISP) or webmasters they are in contract with to do the actual blocking or shuttering.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune finds a telecoms staff who does not use e-mail and says Internet is not really his thing – Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom himself. The eccentric man of many interests (that do not include communications technology) may have blocked, but readily admits he is “sick of people trying to get me to close down websites”. More about him here.

Between Thaksin and the junta – who was worse for the Thai media?

June 11, 2007

Did the media have it better under the regime of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra? Respected media reform advocate Prof Ubonrat Siriyuwasak tells The Nation that as bad as Thaksin had been, the current junta-led regime is worse for having wiped out the constitutional guarantee for all freedoms.

She notes the print media’s apparent indifference to violations against the broadcast news media and the Internet, and deplores what she thinks is the cause – the politicisation of media outlets and organisations, including the Thai Journalists Association and the Press Council, who appeared to have lost their independence.

To find out her suggestions on what the people can do to fight the current assault on media freedom, read the full interview here.

Thai government bows to media pressure to drop draft bill

May 16, 2007

The junta-appointed cabinet in Thailand has dropped its own draft publishing bill following pressure from the media fraternity, reports Bangkok Post today. Instead, the government will consider the version drafted by members of the media sitting in the National Legislative Assembly, which repeals the draconian 1941 Printing Act. See also the Nation Multimedia Group’s group editor Tepchai Yong’s comment.

In Malaysia, an arts party for press freedom

May 15, 2007

poster2.jpegSEAPA partners in Malaysia, the Centre for Independent Journalism and web-based daily, celebrated World Press Freedom Day with indy music outfit Troubadours KL. Poetry recitals, indy music performances, art workshop for children, cartoon exhibition . . . it all happened at the arts hub Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, over the 5 May weekend. More pictures and stories here.  poetryreading.jpeg