They lament the “political control of information regarding the incumbent state government”.
PETALING JAYA: Civil society groups have decried Barisan Nasional’s heavy control over information as the Sarawak state election approaches.
The Centre for Independent Journalism, Charter2000-Aliran and the Writers’ Alliance for Media Independence released a statement today that spoke of “a pattern of political control of information regarding the incumbent state government in an environment that already heavily favours them”.
It said that while urban residents in the state had no trouble getting information from opposition parties, their rural counterparts were not so lucky.
“Much of the population is in remote areas reachable only by boats, a communications option that is further limited by the 10-day campaign period set by the Elections Commission.
“The poor infrastructure and physical difficulties posed by the mountainous terrain mean that the media with the biggest reach is radio, which is under the government’s licensing control.”
The statement also pointed out the denial of airtime to opposition candidates.
At the same time, it added, critical issues such as the alleged rape of Penan women and those touching on native customary rights and Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s alleged corruption had been under-reported, if not altogether censored.
The statement also quoted an April 13 report by Malaysiakini alleging that Umno-linked TV stations were ordered not to broadcast footage of heavily-attended opposition talks.
It also pointed out the punishment meted out to Sarawak Tribune executive editor Paul Si, who was suspended from his job for questioning Taib’s retirement claim.
The statement denounced the barring of activists such as Steven Ng, Wong Chin Huat and Haris Ibrahim from the state.
“While the Sarawak government has the power under Section 65 (I)(a) of the Immigration Act 1959/1963 to control who enters the state, this power has been abused to prevent non-Sarawakian activists critical of Taib from direct engagement with the people,” it said.
The groups also condemned the massive cyber attacks on websites critical of Taib’s reign, including whistleblower Sarawak Report and news portal Malaysiakini.
They urged the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to investigate and act against the perpetrators of the attacks.