PPPA: More press freedom?
Writer: Gan Pei Ling
Published: Fri, 18 May 2012
PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak fulfilled his promise made on Sept 16 to abolish the need for newspapers to renew their licence annually by amending the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) last month.
What are the amendments and would they herald a new era of greater press freedom in Malaysia as claimed by the current administration?
The PPPA amendments were first tabled in the Dewan Rakyat by Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wira Abu Seman Yusop on April 18 and passed at 2.15am on April 20 after a rushed debate.
Firstly, the amendments removed the home minister’s “absolute discretion” to approve, reject, suspend or revoke a newspaper’s permit under subsections 3(3) and 6(1).
The minister’s decision can now be questioned in court under Section 13A(1). In addition, a newspaper must be allowed to be “heard” under Section 13B before the home ministry decides to suspend or revoke the licence.
Media watchdog the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) cautiously welcomed this amendment.
“No government minister should ever have had absolute discretion to approve publishing permits in the first place,” it said in a statement issued on April 18.
Section 12 was also amended to scrap the need for the print media to apply for annual permits.
However, subsection 6(2) still provides the home minister the power to suspend a publication for as long as the minister considers “desirable”.
In other words, a newspaper’s publishing licence will remain valid until it is suspended or revoked by the home ministry once the amendments are enforced.
DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang (Ipoh Timur) had described the amendments as “baby steps” introduced by the government to enhance press freedom.
He highlighted that the government had repeatedly refused to issue decade-old online news portal Malaysiakini a newspaper licence during the debate on the bill.
“Nanyang Siang Pau and The Star were hounded by the home ministry for errors that impinged on religious sensitivities while Utusan Malaysia whipped up racial and religious sentiments with abandon. Why?” he questioned.
CIJ also opined that the government still has effective control over the print media as it has maintained the power to suspend or revoke a publishing permit.
“Newspapers would still be subjected to show-cause letters and be required to answer summonses from the home ministry if they published articles that displeased the minister or ministry officials,” it noted.
The media watchdog added that editors will still be subjected to calls from the ministry dispensing “advice”.
CIJ thinks the PPPA should be repealed entirely and newspapers should be free to publish without the need for a government permit.
It said there are sufficient laws in place to deal with newspapers that publish false news without the need for ministerial oversight.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) was reported to share CIJ’s position that the need for a permit should be scrapped.