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KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 — The deteriorating levels of press freedom in Malaysia as highlighted by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will continue its downward trend if the country continues to be ruled by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, said DAP’s Lim Guan Eng.
The DAP secretary-general also admonished PN’s Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, accusing him of being incompetent and the root cause of the apparent stifling of the press.
He said Saifuddin, as a minister, had missed the salient points raised in RSF’s report when the latter had said strict government action is only for those who report outside the confines of the Federal Constitution and on false information related to Covid-19.
“Saifuddin misses the point that no one objects to action against those disseminating fake news on Covid-19.
“However, Saifuddin ignores RSF’s concerns of ‘more authoritarian rule’ in 2020, which had led to the prosecution of journalists, police searches, the expulsion of journalists and a whistleblower as well as the violation of journalist confidentiality,” Lim wrote.
The Bagan MP then also labeled Saifuddin a “changed man”, claiming how the latter had championed freedom of press during his time under Pakatan Harapan (PH) but has since allegedly changed his stance.
He backed his claims by pointing out how RSF themselves had highlighted the revival of the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) under Saifuddin’s ministry, which was later rebranded as the Department of Community Communications (J-kom), and called it a government propaganda tool.
Lim pointed out how RSF had acknowledged the gains made in press freedom here under Pakatan Harapan were reversed after the shift in power.
“Clearly Saifuddin is a changed man from advocating press freedom when he was a PH Minister to curbing press freedom, from a democrat to an autocrat, from a proponent to an opponent of ICERD working with the racists and religious extremists he used to fervently confront,” he said.
Lim was referring to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which the PH government had planned to ratify, a move handled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Saifuddin’s portfolio under the PH government.
Saifuddin had come out to deny any involvement in the ratification of ICERD, which received strong pushback from the grassroots when it was announced back in 2018.
RSF’s report which was released on Monday noted how Malaysia recorded the worst deterioration, down 18 places in the ranking to 119, which was due in part to a recent “anti-fake news” law which it claimed meant “allowing the government to impose its own version of the truth”.
Lim also lamented on the effects of stifling press freedom, claiming journalists now are forced to practice self-censorship against the ethics of reporting, all just to avoid being persecuted by the government.
“There is not only self-censorship, but perhaps the reason why the biggest language papers from the mainstream media, have shed their neutrality and previous independence under PH by adopting a pro-government approach,” Lim said.
He then took Saifuddin to task, questioning if PN’s refusal to reconvene Parliament is in part caused by his refusal to verify accusations of him instructing all ministry staff to follow social media channels belonging to him, his deputy and ministry secretary-general.
“The public can only get to the bottom of all this fake news if Parliament is reopened and MPs can pursue their role of demanding answers and accountability.
“No wonder Saifudin is such a strong supporter of suspending Parliament which cannot expose the fake news spread by his new Jasa. Malaysia’s press freedom rankings will not improve but only deteriorate as long as PN and Saifuddin is in charge,” he added.