Malaysia: Government cracks down on popular radio program

New York, July 19, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Malaysian government’s interference with Ai FM’s radio program “The Mic is On, With Love, Without Obstacles” for freely airing listeners’ views about a controversial government order that affected Chinese-language schools.

The Ministry of Information on June 24 ordered the Chinese-language program to restructure its format and to stop live broadcasts on June 26, according to information compiled by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Kuala Lumpur. The program’s main host, Wan Piao Ming, was replaced on July 3 without explanation and the program was re-launched with a focus on less controversial topics such as business and relationship advice.

The actions came after the program aired criticism of an Education Department decision to merge classes in Chinese primary schools to address the shortage of teachers, according to the independent online news service Malaysiakini.

The Malaysian government has offered no public explanation for its intervention at the popular state-run radio station. The actions drew wide public attention only recently, after local journalists began to protest. The Writers Alliance for Media Independence, a coalition of media advocates and civil society groups, has contested the moves and demanded that the government explain its actions.

It represents the second time that government has terminated a popular call-in radio program in the past year. In October 2005, the Malaysian government terminated the “Traffic Light After Work” program on privately run WA-FM last year after it broadcast programs in which listeners could express their views on current events.

“We call upon the Malaysian government to stop harassing the broadcast media and allow journalists to do their jobs without fear of reprisal,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has repeatedly vowed that his government would allow for more freedom of expression—and freeing Malaysia’s radio broadcasters from government interference is a good place to start.”

A number of restrictive laws, including the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act, the 1986 Official Secrets Act, and the 1948 Sedition Act greatly impinge upon press freedom in Malaysia, CPJ research shows.

The Communications and Multimedia Act gives the Ministry of Energy, Water, and Communications the power to approve, revoke, or amend broadcasting licenses awarded to private operators any time without explanation. This arbitrary power is often employed by the government to pressure concession-holders to self-censor their programming.