Al Jazeera says ‘lockdown’ documentary balanced despite govt’s refusal to respond

Al Jazeera has defended itself against accusations of bias by the Malaysian government over a recent programme on the treatment of migrants in Kuala Lumpur. (Reuters pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Global news channel Al Jazeera today defended itself against accusations of bias over its documentary on Malaysia’s treatment of migrants during the recent lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Doha-based news outlet said its 101 East programme, under which the 25-minute report “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown” was aired on July 3, is a work of “in-depth journalism of the highest quality”.

“The episode ‘Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown’ contains the views and experiences of a wide range of people from different backgrounds, including a well-respected Malaysian doctor and Malaysian relief worker on the frontlines.

“As stated clearly in the film, Al Jazeera acknowledges that Malaysia’s Covid-19 response has successfully contained the spread of the virus,” Al Jazeera said in response to a series of criticism from government leaders, accusing the news channel of bias.

Al Jazeera said it managed to produce a balanced report despite being shunned by senior government officials, as well as being prohibited from attending ministerial press briefings.

“Repeated requests for interviews were not accepted.

“Al Jazeera also sought to attend the defence minister’s press conferences, but were told only state media could attend,” it said, referring to daily briefings by Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob where only state broadcaster RTM and national news agency Bernama are allowed to cover.

Stating that the episode does not contain the personal opinions of any Al Jazeera staff, the channel said Al Jazeera English is prepared to host a representative of the Malaysian government to respond to the matters raised in the documentary.

Police are investigating Al Jazeera for sedition, defamation and improper use of network facilities, with those involved in the report set to be called to Bukit Aman’s Criminal Investigation Department to give their statements tomorrow morning.

Saying that it is “deeply concerned” that its staff are now subject to a police investigation, Al Jazeera urged the authorities to desist from initiating any criminal investigation into its journalism – adding that the events captured in the documentary were also widely reported by many other media outlets, both domestically and internationally.

The channel also said it has grave concerns about the sustained online harassment its staff are facing after its reporters became the target of abusive messages and death threats.

The personal details of current and former staff have been published online in a serious breach of privacy, and Al Jazeera fears this could potentially expose them to “great risk”, both now and in the future.

Al Jazeera also expressed concern for the safety of those interviewed in the documentary after also being subjected to abusive online harassment and hate speech.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba denied accusations of racism in the “baseless” report on Sunday, with Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin also blasting the documentary for its “twists and turns”.

Ismail Sabri said the report was full of “lies, ill-intentioned and without clear facts” and has asked Al Jazeera to apologise for it.

Meanwhile, Immigration Department director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud warned foreigners who make “inaccurate statements aimed at damaging Malaysia’s image” that they will face possible revocation of their passes.

The department later published the personal details of a Bangladeshi worker wanted for speaking up on alleged mistreatment by immigration officers in the 101 East report.

“People should feel free to speak to the media and express their views without fear that they could be targeted,” said Al Jazeera.

“In a world in which the media face increasing threats, Al Jazeera calls for media freedom and the right to report freely without intimidation.”

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