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Appeal for action to prevent possible sacking of journalists union president

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia is calling for media freedom groups around the world to send a letter of appeal to the management of “Utusan Malaysia”, a major Malay daily in the country, to abandon its intention to hold a domestic inquiry against one of its journalists.

The journalist in question, Hata Wahari, is the president of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Malaysia. He was accused of tarnishing the image of the newspaper he works for when he issued a 20 September 2010 statement criticising the top editors for having an agenda that had nothing to do with media freedom but was about pleasing their political masters (the paper is owned by the United Malays National Organisation, the dominant party in the ruling federal government). He has already received two show-cause letters over the same matter and the domestic inquiry scheduled for 17 January 2011 may well result in him being sacked, effectively relinquishing him of his union position and depriving the union of a much-needed press freedom champion.

Hata is the first NUJ president in more than a decade, who has made an unequivocable stand for press freedom. He is apparently being punished now for his boldness in calling for the “Utusan Malaysia” chief editor to take responsibility for the many complaints about the daily which has been constantly criticised by media observers for its unethical and incendiary reporting that has overtly racist tones.

CIJ notes that there is a conspicuous lack of coverage on this issue in the mainstream newspapers, which have always been reluctant to report on issues related to their own freedom, bound as they are by the repressive Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and their political owners who exercise considerable control over editorial content.

CIJ is therefore asking for intervention from international and regional journalists to create an impact on this issue, which we view as a threat to press freedom.

Please write to the “Utusan Malaysia” management:

  • Reminding them that Article 10 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia guarantees freedom of expression of all citizens, and a journalist is no exception to the rule;
  • Asking them to respect the right of the journalist union leader, and any other journalist for that matter, to freely comment on the state of media freedom and issues that affect their livelihood and profession;
  • Noting that Malaysia's press freedom ranking has been steadily declining over the past years, placing it at the 141th position out of 178 countries, according to a 2010 index by Reporters Without Borders;
  • Stressing that sacking the journalist union leader whose 'crime' had only been to speak for press freedom would not be in keeping with Prime Minister Najib Razak's progressive message three days after he assumed his post in April 2008, envisioning a freer media that would “hold the government and public officials accountable” and “report without fear and favour”; and
  • Asking them to call off the domestic inquiry against Hata Wahari.

    Please send appeals to:

    Utusan Malaysia

    46M, Jalan Chan Sow Lin

    55200 Kuala Lumpur

    Fax: +603 9222 7876 /0911

    pengarang @ utusan.com.my

    Send a copy to:

    National Union of Jourrnalists Malaysia

    30B, Jalan Padang Belia

    50470 Kuala Lumpur

    Fax: + 603 2274 4476.

    info @ nujm.org

    Centre for Independent Journalists Malaysia

    27C, Jalan Sarikei, off Jalang Pahang

    53000 Kuala Lumpur

    Fax: + 603 40230772.

    cijmalaysia (@) gmail.com

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    The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a non-profit organisation that aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free where all people will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.