Friday, August 28, 2009

Malaysian political magazine seized

By Desmond Ang for Radio Australia

Malaysian authorities have confiscated hundreds of copies of a new political cartoon magazine, dismaying media rights campaigners.

Copies of the pilot issue of Gedung Kartun were seized by home ministry officials on Wednesday in a raid on the magazine's Kuala Lumpur office.

Officials say the bi-weekly magazine did not possess a permit and was confiscated under the country's media licensing scheme.

Media rights groups say the seizure was politically motivated - the magazine's cover featured Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak waving a Mongolian flag.
The magazine, due on newsstands next month, seeks to feature Malaysian issues through the eyes of cartoonists.

Editor Zulkifar Anwar Ulhaque told Radio Australia's Connect Asia the aim was to provide an alternative and humorous angle for readers.

He said he did not want to discuss the meaning of depicting the Prime Minister with a Mongolian flag - that was the cartoonist's view of an issue in national politics and it was up to readers to interpret.

Mr Ulhaque said inside the magazine was work commenting on the case of Teoh Beng Hock, a regional assemblyman's political secretary, who was being investigated by the Malaysia Anti Corruption Commission. He was later found dead.

The magazine also touched on the country's Internal Security Act "and then political issues involving the prime minister and his wife".

"There are some cartoons that show the Prime Minister being controlled by his wife, so [those] kind of issues, public issues of what people talk at coffee shops.
"Cartoonists just take that and make cartoons out of it."

With 400 copies confiscated, some news stall owners have decided against selling it in any case.

Mr Ulhaque says he applied for a publication licence, was told in a phone call it was approved, and got a licence number.

"Only thing we don't get is the official letter from the minister ... For them, they say we can't publish without getting official letter from the ministry."

Gayathry Venkiteswaran, executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia, says the action by the home ministry could be politically motivated.

"We have a government that is very sensitive today about the prime minister so we believe that the licensing is one issue, but fundamentally it's about the content."

All publications in Malaysia require a permit, which "is controlled and issued by the home ministry, who can enforce editorial changes to the content", Ms Venkiteswaran said.

She said the tactic was part of a pattern by Malaysian leaders.

"You can trace it back to Mahathir in 1981," she said.
"On one hand, as a policy you want to give an indication that you are open and freer, but when it comes down to specific issues, there is censorship."

The Malaysian ministry of home affairs declined to comment to Radio Australia.

Comment: As usual all kinds of printed media need to be licensed in Malaysia, but unfortunately Gedung Kartun defies the ruling. As a consequence they are not allowed to be distributed. I guess both sides need to adjust their principles. As rule of law says license is important, Gedung Kartun should abide this order. On the other hand, Malaysian authorities should also relook at many draconian laws in this country. We are now in the 21st century and media freedom is not only a privilege but a basic need to a democratic society. If the government had nothing to hide the media should get more space. Really hope one day this conscience will develop in Malaysia. How in the world are we goinmg to get the developed nation status when this small space is still being curbed.

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