by CIJ, 13 August 2007
Source : CIJ
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that columnists with critical views are being removed from the government-linked daily New Straits Times (NST). The move raises suspicion that the government is intent on increasing its control over public discussion in the mainstream media amidst expectations of an early general election. The removal of the columnists further shrinks the balance of views in the Malaysian media.
The Thursday column of Amir Muhammad, and Zainah Anwar's Friday column, last appeared on August 2 and July 27 respectively. Amir Muhammad confirmed that NST canceled his column on August 6 on his blog http://amirmu.blogspot.com/, while the deputy group editor of NST, Kamarul Idris Zulkifli told CIJ that the paper decided not continue Zainah's column. He declined to comment, but Zainah said NST cited lack of space for non-staff columns.
Amir Muhammad is the director for two films- The Last Communist and its sequel the Village People Radio Show, which got banned because of its re-interpretation of historical events during the communist insurgency. His previous column in NST, started in 1987 was similarly terminated in 1999 as the general election was drawing near.
Zainah Anwar is the Executive Director of the Sisters in Islam (SIS), one of the women's rights group under the Article 11 coalition. The group was heavily criticized by members of ruling party UMNO, as well as the opposition Islamic Party (PAS) for advocating that the Constitutional right to freedom of religion be rigourously upheld.
The removal of the duo from the mainstream media is another worrying sign that freedom of expression and information are being curbed at the time when Malaysians needed more discussion and information in the run up to election.
This latest termination of the columns and the recent witch-hunt on bloggers by the government are signs that the state is moving towards a semblance of totalitarianism. It is creating fear among citizens and the government, which stands to lose the people's support by violating the rights to freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. We ask the government to stop curbing freedom of expression and to encourage plurality of sources of information.
We further ask NST to reinstate the columns of the two popular writers to uphold objectivity and balance in journalism.
The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a media organization that aims to improve current Malaysian journalism practice and independence through advocacy, research and analysis, training and practical work. Started in 2001, CIJ has initiated various projects in developing grassroots communications skills through training, infrastructural support and direct action.
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