Malaysia

200 turn up at rally in support of media freedom

Pencil Merah protestors in front of the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur today. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, January 4, 2014. Pencil Merah protestors in front of the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur today. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, January 4, 2014. About 200 people braved the rain this afternoon to take part in the Red Pencil Protest organised by Gerakan Media Marah in support of The Heat. The Home Ministry had suspended the newsweekly's licence last month.

Among those spotted at Lebuh Pasar in Kuala Lumpur were former Bersih 2.0 co-chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Datuk Paduka Marina
Mahathir.

Ambiga said Putrajaya must respect the freedom of the press.

"This is a matter that involves the integrity of journalists. This is a serious matter as the media is controlled by the government," she said.

 Ambiga, a senior civil and constitutional lawyer, said the requirements for the print media to possess a licence went against the principles of a free and independent media.

The group then marched towards the Masjid Jamek-LRT station, the site where police had assaulted a group of journalists covering the Bersih rally in 2012.

Meanwhile, Lim Kit Siang who was also present at the rally, said Putrajaya must revoke The Heat's suspension immediately if there was any meaning to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s effort in nurturing  democracy in Malaysia.

The veteran parliamentarian, however, doubted anything positive would take place, given the current situation.

Lim said Malaysia's ranking in the upcoming Press Freedom Index would continue to slide, possibly lagging behind Myanmar.

"I came to show my support to lift the suspension imposed on The Heat. We need a free media if we are to strive for a better democracy as claimed by the Prime Minister  two years ago," said Lim who worked as journalist in Singapore in the 60s.

He said rightfully Putrajaya should buck-up after The Heat's front page report which highlighted Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor's “spendthrift ways”.

"Days where the government knows best is over. Nothing is going to be solved by suspending the publication," he added.

The Home Ministry in a statement last month said that it was still studying the publisher's reply to its show cause letter and reminded its detractors that the decision to suspend weekly publication was merely a temporary one.

“At this moment, the Home Ministry is studying the reply to the show cause letter and will make an appropriate and fair decision on the publication of The Heat as soon as possible, without being influenced by any parties,” the ministry said in a statement earlier this week.

Nik Nazmi, who is also the Selangor State Legislative Assembly deputy speaker, said that Putrajaya should take note of today's gathering, especially the message that was being advocated by media practitioners.

"Unfortunately, the government in the past did not pay heed to these messages and calls by the people  and had instead enforced decisions which are oppressive.

"Najib claims that Malaysia is capable of becoming one of the better democracies in the world but in practice the opposite was happening and this is very unfortunate."

He also urged Putrajaya to come forward and provide a concrete explanation over the suspension of the newspaper.

"We need an explanation. If it was not over the front page report, then what was it? If what was reported is untrue, then charge the publishers so that they can have their day in court." he said. – January 4, 2014

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