‘Plan to register online portals may threaten media freedom’

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PETALING JAYA: An international media advocacy group has called Putrajaya’s plan to register online portals with high traffic, a possible threat to media freedom and free speech.

Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders, RSF) said such a move will also have a negative impact on online citizen journalists.

RSF Asia-Pacific head Daniel Bastard said Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak wasn’t convincing in arguing that the move was not an attempt to curb the online media from reporting the news.

Last week, Salleh had claimed the proposed registration of online portals was to ensure they were governed by the same rules presently applied to print media.

He said online portals’ reporting mustn’t disrupt the safety of the country, or racial and religious harmony.

Salleh added that the move was akin to what had been done in Singapore, where portals with high traffic were required to be registered.

Bastard said the Sedition Act and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) Act, which could be used against the registered portals, had proven to be threats to media freedom.

He added it was “worrying” that the task force created by Salleh to examine the law is composed only of the inspector-general of police, the attorney-general and de facto law minister Azalina Othman Said.

“The minister doesn’t mention any form of consultation with Malaysia’s media and internet representatives, which tends to confirm the repressive intention of the proposal.

“Salleh also quotes the Singaporean system as an inspiring example.

“He should be reminded that Singapore is rated below Malaysia in RSF’s 2017 Press Freedom Index, notably because of the censorship the city-state’s Media Development Authority imposes on online journalistic content.”

Malaysia, said Bastard, is currently ranked 144 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 Press Freedom Index. Singapore is ranked 151.

He noted that press freedom in the country had worsened in the past two years.

He cited “attacks” on journalists and media outlets deemed overly independent and critical of the government, the continued harassment of cartoonist Zunar, and the blocking of the once popular online news portal, The Malaysian Insider.

Last year, Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee SM Anwarul Haque, was arrested twice and investigated under the Sedition Act and Penal Code for activities deemed detrimental to parliamentary democracy. His movement has also been restricted with the immigration barring him from travelling overseas.

The Malaysian Insider was blocked by the MCMC in February last year.

Prior to that, the authorities had blocked other sites such as Malaysia Chronicle, regional news website Asia Sentinel as well as several blogs seen to be criticising the government.

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