LETTER | The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is appalled and disappointed by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Azam Baki’s defamation suit against a whistleblower, K Lalitha.
This move by Azam is seen as a form of intimidation and reprisal against a whistleblower, who in good faith provided evidence and research-based news articles on a matter of public interest. This defamation suit further calls into question the role of Azam, as a public official, who in his own professional capacity should be working towards the elimination of corruption in the country and upholding the media’s rights to report on news related to said matters.
It is the media’s role to investigate and report on matters that would impact the trust and credibility of public institutions as necessary means of ensuring transparency and holding them accountable.
Initiating litigation against the media is akin to denying the public’s right to know and access information that would enable them to make informed decisions and form opinions. This form of retaliatory lawsuit is used to deter the freedom of expression and speech by intimidating watchdogs and critics, such as the media or activists who safeguard our democracy; and financially drain their resources.
The use of retaliatory lawsuits against an independent journalist is concerning when many of them bring attention to complex issues or scandals. In many instances, these journalists do not have the financial means and legal support. It creates a worrying precedent where journalists are forced to operate within a climate of fear.
The government should be proactive in responding to allegations and claims highlighted by the media – and ensure that its laws and mechanisms are not (mis)used to restrict and punish the media for doing its critical reporting job.
Investigative reports are an integral part of freedom of expression and the right to information. The media add another layer as whistleblowers. Protection of whistleblowers is also essential as it safeguards public interest and promotes a culture of public accountability and integrity.
We stand by Lalitha and other journalists who have been harassed and targeted for simply performing their duty to provide fact-based reports that raise a legitimate question in the public’s interests. We also demand better protection and support for their efforts in uncovering alleged corruption and controversies.
To that end, we call on the following recommendations to be adopted at once:
● Azam must, without any delay, withdraw the defamation suit and stop the harassment against the journalist;
● The state to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for media by reviewing and amending defamation laws that are often used as retaliation and harassment against the media reports which are critical of public institutions or individuals holding public office;
● The Whistleblowers Act 2010 must be reviewed and its scope of protection expanded and strengthened with no further delays;
● 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;
● Investigate the allegations against Azam and uphold the integrity of the MACC and the state.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.