Restraints on free speech and access to information
Through a host of regulatory measures and policy initiatives the Malaysian government retains a tight grip on the media. Legal regulations like the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Internal Security Act, Sedition Act and Defamation Act continue to affect the rights of freedom of speech.
Media laws in the country fall within two broad categories: Laws that regulate access to information and laws that impose restraints on publication of information.
Article 4 (1) of the Federal Constitution proclaims the supremacy of the Constitution and declares that any law passed after Merdeka Day (independence from the British colonial rule in 1957), which is inconsistent with the Constitution, shall be void to the extent of the inconsistency.
Article 10 (1) of the Constitution recognises freedom of speech and expression as the fundamental right of all citizens. Non-citizens, however, are not entitled to this right.
Article 10 (4), however, imposes certain restrictions on the right to freedom of expression as it prohibits the questioning of issues, which may be deemed “sensitive” in Malaysia. These issues may extend to the “right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III”.
Printing Presses & Publications Act (PPPA)
Introduced in 1984, this Act seeks to regulate the use of printing presses, the printing, production, reproduction and distribution of publications, and importation of publications from abroad. Owners of printing presses in the country are required to apply for a license from the Home Ministry to use a printing press, as per requirements of this law. The period of the license is valid for a year or a shorter period provided by the Minister. Violation of the licensing requirement or of the conditions of a license is a criminal offence, which may be punished by imprisonment up to three years or a fine up to 20,000 ringgit or both. Under this Act criminal liability for violations of the Act falls on the owner, co-occupier, the management or anyone assisting in the management of the press. The permit, which is required for the printing, publishing, selling, circulating and distributing any “newspaper” in the country, cannot be assigned or transferred without the Minister’s permissions. Separate provisions exist for importing publications from other foreign countries.
Journalists and media activists stressed on the need to repeal this law. The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) noted that this law enables the government to revoke the license even after it has been granted. Though the government has been somewhat soft in its attitude to the PPPA since the ruling party’s political debacle in the elections of 2008, the relaxation of the provisions of the law has so far only been rhetorical, said media activists. There has been mass protest against this legal provision, spearheaded by the opposition and thus there exists continuous pressure on the government to amend this law.
Official Secrets Act
Under the Act the term “official” refers to anything related to public service, which as described in Section 2, means a) any public service mentioned in Article 132 of the Federal Constitution, b) any local authority, c) any statutory authority, d) any person, authority or body declared by the Minister to be so, and e) in times of war, any government department of an ally. A Minister, the Menteri Besar, or the Chief Minister of a state, may appoint any public officer to classify any official document, information or material as top secret, secret, confidential or restricted (www.agc.gov.my). However, journalists and the civil society organisations argue that this law can be used to suppress press freedom, including the right to inform the public of corruption and other relevant issues. By giving authority to a public officer to classify documents under official secrets, this law empowers the government to conceal relevant issues from public knowledge, which may significantly prevent expose of corruption in state offices among other things. With no clear definition of the term official secrets, it can be interpreted in accordance to the convenience of the authorities. Furthermore, this law offers no safeguard against improper classification of information within the category of official secrets. It also offers no scope to release certain information in public domain after a prescribed period of time. Offences related to the breach of this Act may be prosecuted locally even if it has occurred abroad (Mass Media Laws and Regulations, Malaysia).
Enacted by the British in 1948, the Sedition Act was revised in 1969 after the 13 May 1969 racial riots in the country. According to this law, any act, speech, words or publications may be considered seditious if they possess seditious tendency. The expression, seditious tendency, is too vaguely defined and often obstructs dialogue, debate and discussion. This is considered to be a severe infringement of free speech.
This law derives from the Defamation Act of 1957. It describes a defamatory statement as one, which disparages a person in his office, profession, calling, trade or business; a false statement, which injures a person’s reputation by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule. Defamation can occur in senile two forms - libel and slander. Broadcasts are treated as libel, not stander. In Malayisa it can be criminal under section 499 of the Penal Code. To succeed in a civil action for slander, special damage must be proved (Media Laws and Regulations in Malaysia).
Internal Security Act (ISA)
This law allows preventive detention, the prevention of subversion and the suppression of organized violence against persons and property in specified areas of Malaysia for the internal security of the country. This law was first enacted in 1960 after Malaysia gained independence from the British in 1957 and was revised in 1972. Under this law, any person who, by word of mouth or in writing or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular or other printed publication or by any other means spreads false reports or makes false statements likely to cause public alarm, shall be guilty of offense. The Internal Security Act severely infringes the freedom of expression of the media.
In order to start a newspaper the publishing company is required to apply for a publication license under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, while the printing company also requires a license to print the newspaper. Renewal of the license is required annually. No person is allowed to use a printing press unless he has been granted a license under the Act. The court will forfeit a press, which is kept without a license. To start a broadcasting station, a license is required under the Broadcasting Act. The license is granted for a period of twelve months or for a shorter period as may be specified in the license. The minister in may vary or revoke terms and conditions of the license is granted during its validity period.
Communication and Multimedia Act
This Act was enacted in 1998 to fulfill the need to regulate an increasingly convergent communications and multimedia industry. It is based on the basic principles of transparency, clarity, competition and flexibility. The objective of this law is to promote national policy in the communications and multimedia industry and establish a licensing and regulatory framework in coherence with the national policy. It also recognizes the power and role of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to administer the provisions of the law.Back to top