Media groups want better protection for whistleblowers

KUALA LUMPUR: Two media groups have called for better protection for whistleblowers and journalists for their efforts in uncovering corruption scandals among high-ranking senior government officials.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Gerakan Media Merdeka (GERAMM) in a joint statement said they were alarmed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki’s letter of demand, which sought the removal of two articles and an apology from investigative journalist, Lalitha Kunaratnam, within 14 days.

“He also threatened to issue a defamation proceeding demanding RM10mil if she failed to comply.

“As the fourth estate of democracy, the media and journalists have the fundamental responsibility to hold the state, especially government officials, accountable for their actions,” they said in a statement Friday (Jan 7).

They added that this was especially so when Lalitha, an investigative journalist, provided fact-based reports that raised a legitimate question in the public’s interests.

“Azam’s action calls into question the role of MACC and, ultimately, the state in eliminating corruption in Malaysia.

“The expected action by MACC and the state would have been to investigate the allegations in the report and not the reporter,” they said.

They added that the state has not only failed in addressing the matter, but it also failed in providing adequate protection to an investigative journalist who was playing the role of a whistleblower.

“Protection of whistleblowers is also essential as its safeguards public interest and promotes a culture of public accountability and integrity,” they said.

They suggested several recommendations to be adopted.

Among them, they said, Azam must without any delay, withdraw the letter of demand, and that the Whistleblowers Act 2010 must be reviewed with its scope of protection expanded and strengthened.

“The government must ensure that freedom of expression and speech are upheld and protected at all times for all Malaysians, and specifically for the media, by repealing repressive laws used to restrict these freedoms, including defamation laws arbitrarily.

“Move ahead with the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry and to avoid the government and its agencies from becoming the sole arbiter of truth,” they said.

They added that investigations must be conducted on the allegations against Azam, and uphold the integrity of the MACC and the state.

On Wednesday (Jan 5), Azam said his brother had used his trading account to buy shares in the open market and financed the purchases on his own.

It involved substantial amounts of shares bought from Gets Global Bhd and Excel Force MSC Bhd between 2015 and 2016 when Azam was the MACC director of investigations.

Azam said the same explanation was given to the MACC’s Anti-Corruption Advisory Board (ACAB) after he was summoned to explain the matter on Nov 24.

Azam also maintained that he did not commit any wrongdoing, adding that action will be taken against those who tarnish his reputation and that of the MACC.

On Thursday (Jan 6), Azam said he would cooperate with the Securities Commission over the matter and expected to meet next week.