Malaysia

Private broadcasters told to ignore Bersih, warn people against protests

By Jahabar Sadiq
Editor

June 30, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, June 30 — The Najib administration has warned private broadcasters against mentioning the planned Bersih rally or the protest date but wants them to warn people against taking to the streets to ask for free and fair elections, media executives say.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) called in media executives in the past week to inform them of the new regulations apart from Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein declaring Bersih T-shirts as illegal.

“We can’t mention Bersih, the July 9 date for the rally in our broadcasts but we must warn people against demonstrating. How to do that?” a senior media executive asked The Malaysian Insider.

Putrajaya runs Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) that offers television and radio broadcasts but also licenses private broadcasters like Astro or the Astro All Asia Network which is a cross-media group, The Star Publication which operates radio stations, Media Prima Berhad which runs TV and radio stations, and the Bfm radio station.

“We have to submit our radio scripts too for checking. It’s a bit ridiculous,” another executive told The Malaysian Insider.

It is understood the orders came from the Information Ministry in tandem with a crackdown on the Bersih movement which is calling for a protest on July 9 to press for free and fair elections.

Hishammuddin said yesterday that Bersih T-shirts are illegal just hours before police raided the Bersih secretariat in Petaling Jaya on suspicion of carrying out illegal activities. Seven activists held in the raid were later freed on police bail.

Police also seized T-shirts and banners during the raid carried out by a phalanx of policemen, including one carrying an assault rifle.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar also said the police will not only arrest those sporting Bersih T-shirts but may also take action against anyone using any medium to promote the illegal rally.

“Not just T-shirts but shoes, cars, buses. If these are the tools used to encourage people to gather (illegally), this amounts to sedition,” he told reporters at Bukit Aman police headquarters here yesterday.

“Based on PDRM (Royal Malaysian Police) intelligence ... if this rally is held, tension, chaos, the destruction of property, injury and even loss of life may occur,” he said.

“PDRM will not allow any individual or certain parties to do anything that could trigger chaos and anarchy.”

He said the police have received information that foreign elements were poised to exploit the chaos that would “very likely” result from the rally but declined to reveal their identity or if they were working with opposition parties.

Police have arrested 30 people, including Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, for campaigning for Bersih.

Activists under Bersih and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) component parties are gearing up for the rally this July 9, the second such gathering calling for electoral reform.

The first rally, also organised by Bersih, was held in 2007 and saw some 50,000 people take to the capital’s streets. The gathering eventually descended into chaos when the police deployed tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators.

The event has been partly credited for PR’s record gains in Election 2008, when the opposition pact swept to power in five states and won 82 parliamentary seats.