March 16, 2016
Independent Malaysian news site closes amid government clampdown on media
Oliver Holmes in Bangkok
Editor says he ‘won’t be blinkered or turn a deaf ear’ after authorities blocked Malysian Insider for articles critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The Malaysian Insider office: the site was blocked after it ran a controversial report on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Photograph: Ahmad Yusni/EPA
A leading Malaysian news website that had been blocked by the government following critical coverage of Prime Minister Najib Razak has shut down.
The Malaysian Insider editor Jahabar Sadiq told the Guardian that the news portal had closed for commercial reasons. He said the website had suffered from months of pressure from the government to dissuade advertisers from working with it.
“State-owned companies have been told not to advertise with us,” he said on the phone from Kuala Lumpur.
Jahabar and two other editors from the website were arrested last year on suspicion of sedition and the news portal was blocked in February this year, part of a recent crackdown on the media.
The Malaysian Insider had published several reports on the troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and investigations into $681m deposited into Najib’s personal accounts. The Prime Minister denies any wrongdoing, saying the money was a gift from a benefactor in the Gulf.
The Malaysian Insider, an independent news site that was blocked by the Malaysian government, has announced it is to close. This is the image that appears on its website now.
The Malaysian Insider has announced it is to close. This is the image that appears on its website now. Photograph: Malaysian Insider.
Last year, Malaysia blocked a UK-based news blog, the Sarawak Report, and also two financial papers, the Edge Weekly and the Edge Financial Daily.
Both papers are owned by the Edge Media Group, which also owns the Malaysian Insider.
In a leaving note, Malaysia Insider editor Sadiq wrote: “Goodbye readers from near and far, and those reading us in Malaysia despite the government block.“We worked as impartial journalists to inform Malaysians and other readers so that they make informed decisions,” he wrote.
“But our work in The Malaysian Insider has now come to an end in a Malaysia that more than ever requires more clarity, transparency and information.I won’t put down my pen, I won’t lay down my camera, I won’t shut up and I won’t be blinkered or turn a deaf ear to what goes on in Malaysia and the world. And I urge all of you to do the same.”
Dozens of activists, dissidents and lawyers have been arrested under the country’s sedition law, an act implemented under the British empire. The opposition complains that Najib has attacked media freedoms to protect himself from the 1MDB scandal.
A Malaysian government spokesperson said the media in Malaysia “is freer than it has ever been”.
The spokesperson said that since assuming office in 2009, the Prime Minister has eliminated bans on opposition party newspapers, removed annual renewal requirements for printing licenses, repealed the Internal Security Act and passed the Peaceful Assembly Act, which enshrines in law the right to protest.
“There is an open and robust online space in which opposition voices and outlets are given free rein, and there is immediate access to critical opinions – the true test of media freedom in a democracy,” the spokesperson said.
The press environment in Malaysia has come under international scrutiny in recent days when two Australian journalists working for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) were arrested on Saturday for trying to question the premier over the corruption allegations.
Four Corners reporter Linton Besser had questioned Najib as he walked into a mosque, asking why hundreds of millions of dollars had been deposited into his bank account.
Besser and ABC camera operator Louie Eroglu were later arrested, questioned in a police station for six hours and their passports were taken, the ABC said.
The Police said the pair were arrested for failing to comply with police instructions after they crossed a security line and “aggressively tried to approach the prime minister”.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Monday that she was concerned “when there are instances of a crackdown on freedom of speech – in democracies particularly”.On Tuesday, the country’s P olice said they would not be charged and would be deported.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division for Human Rights Watch, said the arrests were a “kneejerk reaction … To arrest them demonstrates the incredible lengths that the authorities are prepared to go to protect Prime Minister Najib from any sort of hard questions about his actions.It’s shameful that the Malaysia government is apparently willing to shred the country’s already diminished reputation as a rights-respecting democracy to shield one man from serious allegations of malfeasance.
“With the recent shutdown of The Malaysian Insider and these arrests, freedom of the press has become increasingly endangered in Najib’s Malaysia.”