Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar
Minister of Internal Security and Home Affairs
Level 12, Block D1, Parcel D
Federal Government Administrative Centre
62546 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Via facsimile: +60 3 8889 1613
The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the future of Tamil-language daily Makkal Osai after your office, according to news reports, rejected its publishing permit renewal. We call on you to reconsider your decision, to allow the newspaper to continue to serve the Indian minority community in Malaysia, and to review the licensing regulations that stifle the publication of independent news.
The Associated Press reported that your office informed the paper's staff on Wednesday that the publication permit had not been renewed. No reason was given for the decision, AP reported. The paper ceased printing but retained staff, pending the result of an appeal filed Thursday, local news reports said. The daily had applied for a new permit several months ago but received no response, according to the reports.
Makkal Osai's manager, B.R. Rajan, told AP he believed the rejection came in retribution for the paper's critical line on social and political issues. The Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a Malaysian press freedom organization that monitored media coverage of the March general election, said in a statement that Makkal Osai gave significant space to the opposition. Most newspapers praised the ethnic-Malay dominated National Front coalition, which has won every election since the country's independence in 1957. Makkal Osai also reported extensively on November 2007 rallies protesting racial discrimination against Malaysia's Indian community, according to AP.
CPJ research shows that printing permits, which are renewed annually, have been used as political leverage, with the threat of non-renewal inhibiting independent reporting. This is especially troubling because ownership of Malaysian media companies is dominated by ruling parties or their affiliates.
The publication has been obstructed in the past. In August 2007, the government suspended the paper's permit for a month for publishing a cartoon that offended the Malaysian Indian Congress, a political party that is part of the ruling coalition.
You told reporters on Thursday that Makkal Osai was in breach of unspecified licensing guidelines, according to The Star. You cited Malaysia's multi-racial, multi-religious environment as the rationale behind the strict printing legislation, The Star said, but you did not elaborate in comments that were printed in the Malaysian press.
The newspaper could appeal the decision, you told the reporters: "We will look at it again," you said. We urge you to do so immediately and with full transparency. Renewing the permit for Makkal Osai would allow an important voice to be heard in Malaysia's ethnically diverse communities. We also call on you to abandon the sections of the Printing and Publications Act that pertain to publication permits; they serve to inhibit diverse voices in Malaysian media.