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RTM should clarify alleged censorship of programme

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is troubled to hear of another alleged self- censorship by a TV station coming on the heels of a case exposed just recently.

This time round, it is in one of the television stations, TV2, of state-owned broadcaster Radio and Talivisyen Malaysia (RTM), which axed a current affairs series after screening the first couple of episodes on April 26 and 27.

The programme’s producer, Chow Z-Lam, alleged in an April 27 press statement that his 10-episode daily programme about the social and economic plight of the indigenous people displaced by the Bakun Dam project in Sarawak was shelved after just two episodes on air because of the impending Sibu by-election.

He said he was told this by his superior, director of news Jumat Engson, who said that the series is better postponed to after the by-election due to the content's ‘sensitive element’. Chow said that although Jumat claimed responsibility for the decision, he had reason to believe the instruction came from someone higher, director of broadcasting Ibrahim Yahaya. Chow said he had tried approaching Deputy Minister of Information Ng Sai Kee for help, but to no avail.

Both the RTM corporate communication department and TV2 office have declined comment, while Jumat, Ibrahim and his deputy Norhyati Ismail were unavailable for comment when contacted by CIJ.

Chow's exposé, if true, paints another stark picture of the media being complicit in depriving the public of their right to be heard – in the case of the subject of his programme – and the right to information – in the case of the larger audience. It is distressing to note that in both the NTV7 and RTM cases, the by-election was cited as the excuse for abandoning discussion of current affairs.

In this case, RTM should have seized the by-election as an opportunity to highlight and bring to the attention of the federal government the problem of indigenous peoples affected by the Bakun project, which has been hanging since 1998.

The indigenous groups are by far the poorest and most marginalised of peoples in the country, whose afflictions over their ancestral land are a protracted issue owing to censorship by the mainstream media, which are all owned by the ruling government or cronies with vested interest in the issue.

As distressing as the situation is, CIJ salutes the two journalists, Chow and former NTV7 producer Joshua Wong, for taking the courageous stand to publicly defend the integrity of their work and to speak up against political censorship. Self-censorship is usually a shushed-up matter in newsrooms and journalists affected are seldom inclined to expose them for fear of affecting their rice bowl in view of the harsh laws against the media.

While NTV7’s Wong has resigned over his case, Chow is still under RTM's employment, though he has expressed pessimism about his contract being renewed in January next year.

On behalf of the public, CIJ would like to ask for a clarification from RTM’s Director of Broadcasting Ibrahim Yahaya on the matter. As an institution funded by taxpayers, RTM is more than duty-bound to serve the interest of the public in providing truthful and balanced news.

The writer is communication and publications officer, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).