Malaysia: Government-blocked Website Stops Publishing

Hata Wahari
2016.03.14
Kuala Lumpur
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160314-TMI-620.jpg A photograph on The Malaysian Insider homepage bids readers farewell after the news portal ceased operations, March 14, 2016.
BenarNews

One of Malaysia’s most popular news portals ceased publication Monday after a government block of the site compounded its financial difficulties, its publisher said.

The announcement came as media advocates protested the six-hour detention Saturday of two Australian journalists who allegedly got too close to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“It is with much sadness that The Edge Media Group … wishes to announce that we have decided to cease the operations of The Malaysian Insider (TMI) with immediate effect,” Publisher and CEO Ho Kay Tat said in a statement.

The Edge could no longer sustain TMI after having incurred 10 million ringgit (U.S. $2.4 million) in losses since acquiring the website in June 2014, he said.

“We believe the recent problems TMI had with The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had made it more difficult for a sale to be concluded even though discussions had started before that,” Ho added.

Malaysia’s government blocked access to TMI within Malaysia on Feb. 25, a day after the portal published a report saying there was credible evidence to frame charges against Najib over scandals linked to the indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

TMI’s Chief Executive Officer Jahabar Sadiq said he and his staff stood by the story when police questioned them the following day.

In January, Malaysia’s attorney general cleared Najib of potential corruption charges linked to the deposit of U.S. $681 million into his private bank accounts during the run-up to the 2013 general election. Najib has maintained that he never took money for private gain.

‘Half-baked stories’

The closure of the TMI website removes from circulation an online news site that had been doing critical reporting on the 1MDB and associated stories.

“The TMI incident is not only a form of a government censorship, but a case to serve as a warning to other online publications which are critical,” Mustafa Kamal Anuar a lecturer in communications at the University of Science, Malaysia, told BenarNews.

“After all, all the mainstream media is controlled as much as possible, now it's time for the regime to try to control alternative media and social media that have various lines of view,” he warned.

However, another commentator accused TMI of dishing out “rubbish and concocted stories and lies.”

“[I]t is heartening to know that more and more intelligent Malaysians are waking up and no longer believe wholeheartedly the half-baked stories that are being churned out to them. TMI dug its own grave,” media critic Baharuddin Aziz told BenarNews.

‘I won’t put my pen down’

Before the site went dark at midnight (local time), TMI editors and staff bid goodbye to readers with a staff photo and special articles posted on its homepage.

“I hope we have served you well since our first day … and I hope others will continue to serve you in our absence,” Jahabar told readers in a farewell piece.

“We worked as impartial journalists to inform Malaysians and other readers so that they make informed decisions. We worked to make all voices heard in the marketplace of ideas,” Jahabar wrote.

“I won’t put my pen down, 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,” Jahabar vowed.

The Insider was the second news website to be blocked within Malaysia this year after the Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel.

In 2015, the government blocked online access to The Sarawak Report, a Britain-based news site that covers Malaysia and also has published articles critical of Najib.

Legal Threats

Meanwhile, media organizations expressed alarm over the arrest Saturday of two Australian journalists who had tried to question Najib over corruption allegations.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) reporter Linton Besser and cameraman Louie Eroglu were held for six hours after they approached Najib at a mosque in Kuching, according to media freedom group Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm).

Authorities temporarily seized their passports, then ordered the pair to remain in Kuching while authorities decided whether to file criminal charges against them for “allegedly crossing a security line and aggressively approaching the prime minister,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement.

The CPJ called on Malaysian authorities to “drop all legal threats against them” and Geramm condemned the arrests.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) issued a statement in which it said it was “compelled to express our gravest concern at the treatment of the [ABC] team.”

The club said it “simply does not see the need, based on the current explanation of the case, to arrest the two journalists.”

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