Authorities reprimand daily over article on impounded Bibles

[The following is a statement from the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), SEAPA’s associate member based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:]

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia regrets that yet another reprimand was issued by the Home Ministry to the press, this time to “The Star”.

“The Star” stated that it was reprimanded for a 9 March 2011 article on the impounding of 5,000 Bibles in the national language Malay. “The Star” was reportedly reminded by the Home Ministry’s chief secretary Zaitun Abdul Samad that printing owners are required to comply with ministry directives under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

It is unclear what directives “The Star” breached. The article entitled “5,000 Bibles still not returned, says group” essentially reported a statement by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship secretary-general Sam Ang. Ang said 5,000 Malay Bibles were confiscated by the Home Ministry in 2009, adding that they have still not been returned despite alleged Cabinet approval.

The holdup with the Bibles, reportedly due to their reference to “Allah” as God, is a curb by the government on the freedom of expression as well as the freedom of religion. Ang’s statement was in no way incendiary or inflammatory. It expressed the concern of a community whose constitutional freedoms have been infringed. In publishing the statement, “The Star” was doing its duty in monitoring power and allowing the aggrieved party its say. No Home Ministry directive should have such wide and far-reaching powers as to prohibit the publication of such a statement.

This incident highlights more than ever the need for the PPPA to be repealed. It is a serious infringement on media freedom when the government has the power to dictate to newspapers what they can or cannot report. The role of the media is to serve the public interest. The government’s ability to reprimand and deny newspapers licences for not following its instructions has only led to the continued erosion of the media’s ability to play this important role.

CIJ therefore calls on the Home Ministry to retract its reprimand to “The Star” and to cease issuing directives which interfere with the media’s public interest role. It is in the interest of the people that the media is free to report on statements as they see fit. Actions such as the Home Ministry’s recent interference will only impede the government’s declared aims of ensuring good governance, transparency and accountability and should therefore cease.

CIJ also calls on all Malaysians who value an independent media to hold the government accountable over the appalling state of media freedom in the country. With the general election expected this year, it is an opportune time to tell our elected representatives that we want the PPPA repealed.

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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 peoples will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek and impart information.

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