GEORGE TOWN: The Penang state government is intent on emulating Selangor's efforts to enact the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act despite the legal obstacles, said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
He said the state government would pursue the matter even though the Penang state legal adviser had blocked the attempt on constitutional grounds.
"In Penang, the state legal adviser has objected to the state government's intention to enact an FOI on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
"According to her, information is under the Federal list of the Federal Constitution and not within the jurisdiction of the state government.
"The state government is closely following the efforts by the Selangor state government to enact the FOI and should these be successful, we will then enact a similar law in the Penang State Assembly," Lim said in a statement on Sunday, May 2, issued in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day.
Lim said that year after year, the DAP, National Union of Journalists and even Suhakam had called on the federal government to abolish the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act and other repressive laws inherited from the British colonial days.
Lim said the organisations had even asked for the enactment of the FOI to ensure competency, accountability and transparency in governance.
"However, this was ignored and more media curbs imposed. "The first four months of this year alone did not see improvement with harassment of the press continuing.
"On April 22, a media award-winning producer of ntv7 talk show Editor's Time, Joshua Wong, was forced to resign in protest against unreasonable restrictions and 'overzealous self-censorship and government interference' against the opposition by those close to the prime minister.
"This restriction of freedom amounts to a punishment and it affects the professionalism of the team.
"A few days later, RTM2 producer Chou Z Lam also claimed political interference when his documentary on the Bakun dam project in Sarawak was cancelled under the direct instruction of RTM director-general Ibrahim Yahaya, for fear of affecting BN's chances in the coming Sibu by-election," Lim added.
He cited other cases of curbs on press freedom this year, including the Home Ministry "advising" China Press to decide on disciplinary action against its editor-in-chief for publishing a report that the Inspector-General of Police had resigned.
Lim alleged that the daily promptly enforced the "advice" by suspending the editor-in-chief, as well as issuing a page one apology pertaining to the news report.
"On Feb 26, the Home Ministry issued a show-cause letter to The Star over the article Persuasion, not compulsion by its managing editor, that was published on Feb 19 pertaining to issues of syariah law. The daily also apologised to its readers.
"A week later, The Star refused to publish its columnist Marina Mahathir's column touching on the caning of women under the Islamic law in February," he added.
Lim also criticised the intimidation of book sellers through the confiscation of books deemed unfavourable to the Barisan Nasional government.
He said copies of Where is Justice and 1Funny Malaysia were among titles seized in January and February this year.
"At the same time, no action is taken against Utusan Malaysia for its lies against Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders, preaching racial hatred and even violence.
"Freedom to lie is not freedom of the press. Similarly newspapers should observe one of the basic tenets of press freedom, that is to give a right of reply. This right of reply has been denied repeatedly to PR leaders by the mainstream media controlled by BN.
"The press must be free. Let all Malaysians press for freedom," he added.