Friday, September 16, 2011

Journalists’ union lauds Najib but… | Free Malaysia Today

Journalists’ union lauds Najib but…

Teoh El Sen | September 16, 2011-FMT

Ideally, says NUJ general secretary V Anbalagan, there should be no need for media licences at all.

PETALING JAYA: The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has lauded Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s announcement that annual printing permit renewals under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) will be abolished.

However, NUJ said that it was still not satisfied as, ideally, there should be no need for media licences at all.

“NUJ always felt that there should not be licensing at all. That should be the ideal situation, you should allow people to run newspapers on the condition that you don’t flout the law.

“People who are irresponsible should face the music in a court of law,” NUJ general-secretary V Anbalagan told FMT.

He commended Najib’s announcement on the PPPA as a “giant and meaningful step, as there would be more certainty for licence holders now” but added “for a start, it is good, it is very significant. But we are not totally satisfied.”

Anbalagan said NUJ hoped that ministry officials would stop inviting media editors for “tea sessions” and periodically call them whenever an article the ministry did not approve of was published.

“What is all that for? It does not reflect well on ministry officials. They should refrain from calling editors. It is viewed as a sort of intimidation,” he added.

What about home minister’s power?

He said another point that was not addressed, from his interpretation of Najib’s speech, was the home minister’s power over licences.

“Currently, the home minister could decide not to renew licences or revoke them and those decisions cannot be challenged in court by way of judicial review. You can’t even ask the minister to give any reasons for his decision,” he pointed out.

“Every decision of the executive must be subjected to scrutiny by the courts and given every opportunity to due process of the law,” he said.

“How could the government issue licence and at the same time be the same people who decide not to renew or revoke it, and the decision is not questionable? You cannot be judge, jury and executioner,” he added.

He said if the media flouted the law, there were legal provisions to haul the unethical publisher to court, but the power should not lie with the Executive.

Anbalagan said the effect of the proposed amendment to the PPPA essentially would allow for slightly better freedom of speech.

“Before, you would get cold feet whenever your licence is expiring soon. And your articles would mellow down and not be so critical, publishers would play safe.

“Now licence holders would not have to get worried whether the licence is going to be renewed or not. But well, it still could be revoked,” he said.

Anbalagan also said Najib did not provide a time frame for the reforms and urged for a “timetable” of when exactly the amendments to the legislation would take place.

“To have an independent media is a cornerstone of a vibrant democracy; if the state does not give you licence to publish, it is denying the democratic right for newspapers to interact with the public and the newspaper to be the eyes and ears of the people. You must allow a free media,” he stressed.

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