UUM denies leaked circular a gag order on staff

Universiti Utara Malaysia says a circular dated Nov 18 is repeating what has been approved and practised before. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) says it has not imposed a gag order on any member of its academic staff despite a leaked circular stating that university officials are barred from making public statements.

Speaking to FMT, UUM vice-chancellor Prof Ahmad Bashawir Abdul Ghani admitted the university had issued the circular dated Nov 18 but said that it was merely a reminder.

“It is a reminder on Rule 18 of the Code of Conduct of the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act 200. It is not a new regulation.

“We are just repeating what has been approved and practised before, but it is not a gag order. We are just reminding our staff that while we appreciate differing views, they must be polite in airing their views.”

He said the legal wording of Rule 18 did not mean that staff could not air their views.

In the circular sighted by FMT, citing Rule 18, university officials are told that they must not make any verbal or written statements which can harm the government’s policies, plans or decisions or highlight their weaknesses.

It also barred the issuing of any statements which could embarrass the government or its statutory bodies and stated that all media statements must be approved by the vice-chancellor.

At the same time, it also forbids staff from speaking positively on any government policies, plans or decisions, nor provide any information based on facts on the functions of statutory bodies.

The circular also bars staff from spreading information or comments, including those made by others, unless it has been approved by the minister. It added that this applied to all media statements, speeches or lectures in any form of publication or platform.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said he hoped the university’s circular would remain only as a guide and would not restrict the freedom of speech of academics and students.

He told FMT that although he respected the autonomy of public universities, he would continue to defend the rights of academics to speak up.

“Academics must continue to be given the freedom to air their views and stand on issues so long as they do not break the law in doing so. There has to be no confusion in this matter.

“In the spirit of the new Malaysia, it is not right to restrict anyone’s freedom of speech.”