MPs in heated argument over raid on Al Jazeera office

The Al Jazeera office in Kuala Lumpur was raided by police today as part of its probe into the controversial documentary ‘Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown’.

KUALA LUMPUR: MPs were engaged in a heated argument over the police raid on Al Jazeera’s office here today.

It started when Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the Cabinet had agreed to amend the National Film Development Corp (Finas) Act “to become relevant with the times”.

He was referring to last month’s announcement that social media users would be free to produce and upload videos online without the need to apply for a Finas licence, nor fear prosecution under the Act.

The announcement came following an uproar from social media users and rights activists over an earlier statement from Saifuddin that anyone shooting films and clips would need a licence from Finas.

When Saifuddin informed the Dewan Rakyat of the Cabinet decision, Wong Shu Qi (PH-Kluang) asked why the authorities were taking action against Al Jazeera if Finas’ laws were being updated.

“Finas is to encourage the film industry but it is being used for the news sector too, even though we know anything can be (considered under) film.

“The interpretation is too wide. The implication is serious. Don’t use outdated laws,” she told Saifuddin.

Saifuddin then asked Wong why the PH coalition did not amend the Finas laws when it was governing the country. Saifuddin was then part of the PH government.

But Wong said the PH coalition did not use the outdated laws.

Saifuddin replied that local television channels had to apply for certain licences as content service providers.

“What is crucial is that PH in its 20 months did not amend Finas’ laws. On July 23, you (Wong) asked me and I clarified that the PN Cabinet had guaranteed that we will make amendments,” he said, referring to the backlash over the need for a licence for filming even for social media.

Saifuddin continued by saying that the documentary by Al Jazeera was not only being probed under Finas’ laws but that it also involved other issues.

Teresa Kok (PH-Seputeh) stood up to say the raid on Al Jazeera would see the country’s image slip further.

Saifuddin asked: “Who is damaging the image (of the country)? The documentary or who?”

Earlier, Al Jazeera confimed that police had raided its Kuala Lumpur office and seized two computers.

The probe relates to a “101 East” programme examining the government’s treatment of undocumented migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English, had said the network was “gravely concerned” by the raid and the criminal charges, which carry jail terms and hefty fines, and called on the government to cease its investigation against the network’s journalists immediately.

The raid comes nearly a month after police questioned seven of Al Jazeera’s journalists over the documentary “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, which aired on July 3.