COMMENT | The gag order placed on the High Court trial of former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak impairs both open justice and fair reporting. It should be removed at the earliest opportunity.
In the first place, the order is unclear in its scope of restriction. Thus, there is no compelling reason for the media to comply as in doing so it would constitute an act of self-censorship.
This would not only be against the conscience of journalists, it would also be an affront to the new democracy that is emerging after May 9, when the people voted convincingly for a return to constitutional democracy.
The gag order was issued to ensure a fair trial and to prevent a trial by media, as claimed by the defence counsel. But this is both nebulous and untenable and the order is unprecedented.
This is censorship of the press and, far from preventing a trial of public opinion, the move will only encourage fake news to surface in the ensuing absence of fair and responsible reporting. We must not allow unclear restrictions to shut the door to press freedom and open justice.
Malaysia is a Commonwealth country and our judiciary can follow the open justice convention as espoused by countries like the United Kingdom and Australia where prior restriction to fair reporting is already available.
Likewise, in Malaysia, there are also prior restraints to court reporting like evidence in camera in rape cases where the press is excluded. There is no need for gag orders.
The Najib trial is about alleged corruption and abuse of power in the highest levels of government. Public interest is best served by the widest coverage through fair reporting. The media has its fundamental obligation to report factually, accurately and fairly...