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NGO wants public debate on changes to CMA

 | May 16, 2016

There is no reason why the tabling of the CMA amendments cannot be delayed pending a public consultation, and a clearer definition of what harms these are meant to curtail.

MCMCKUALA LUMPUR: The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) wants the government to halt the tabling of proposed amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) until open and participatory consultations can be held with different and diverse stakeholders. “This should include civil society organizations to comprehensively examine the impact of the proposed amendments,” said JAG Spokeswoman Yasmin Masidi in a statement. “We recall that the government held nationwide roadshows to consult the public before passing the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 and the Domestic Violence Act 1994.”

She added that there was no reason why the tabling of the CMA amendments cannot be delayed pending a public consultation, and a clearer definition of what harms these are meant to curtail. “Any law that restricts our freedom of expression should be focused on setting the limits to the limitations, and not resort to authoritarian measures to expand these limitations.”

The NGO noted that Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak has sought to give assurances that the amendments were not intended to “restrict people’s freedoms”.

The Malaysian Government should then release the full text of the proposed amendments so the public can judge for themselves, instead of keeping the amendments under wraps, stressed JAG.

The NGO was expressing its deep concern over the proposal to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA). “We believe, based on reports of the proposed amendments and the escalating suppression of freedom of expression, these amendments will have the impact of worsening the human rights situation on the ground for women.”

The proposed amendments include mandatory registration of “political” bloggers and online news portals, and an increase in penalties for offences under the CMA. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) will also potentially be accorded greater powers to take down online content and block websites.

The proposed amendments will not address violence, discrimination and misogyny faced by women online, argued JAG. “They will instead add to the threats faced by women who are speaking out on issues that matter to them, from democratic governance to the GST to their life choices.”

The idea that somehow the government could discern “political bloggers” from other bloggers, for example, is laughable, continued the NGO. “Malaysian women’s lives are political because even our identities are politicized. “

While human rights defenders and Opposition politicians have been the most visible victims of the current crackdown on freedom of expression, JAG thinks that it will only be a matter of time before other groups are targeted.

In the long term, it will be women – especially the most marginalized and vulnerable among us – who will feel the adverse and most lasting impact, summed up the NGO.


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