The Middle East’s leading TV News Service, Al Jazeera, has given its own appalled reaction to the discovery that its coverage of Saturday’s Bersih 3.0 rally may have also have been doctored by Malaysia’s Astro satellite station.
In an uncompromising statement a spokesman today declared:
“We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world.”
The statement has added to the growing international outrage over Malaysia’s authoritarian censorship rules, in a country that poses as a democracy.
The BBC, who discovered its own report of the day’s events was covertly edited, has launched its own legal and editorial enquiry into the incident and is said to be taking the matter “extremely seriously indeed”, according to one insider.
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera meanwhile, now has reason to believe that its extensive coverage of the Bersih rally was also interfered with.
The station had sent it’s English language reporter Harry Fawcett onto the ground in KL, covering the rally and providing on the spot interviews.
Much of his material was dramatic and showed a number of cases of excessive use of force by the police against demonstrators.
As he spoke to camera, police officers could be seen hovering at the reporter’s shoulder and eventually he reported that they smashed his equipment to the ground – one of several attacks reported against news crews by police.
Fawcett’s report had concluded on an even handed note, suggesting that both sides had matters to regret over the direction of events. Yet the station is believed to have received information from a number of sources that Astro censored its coverage.
Today Al Jazeera’s English Spokesman released this official statement:
“We will be asking Astro for an explanation as to why Harry Fawcett’s report of the rally in Malaysia was apparently censored. If Astro are indeed saying that it breached “local content regulations”, they would need to outline exactly what these alleged breaches were and how they arrived at their decision.
“As we understand it, the censoring was not made clear to viewers when it happened. We have had no communication on this incident from Astro either.
“Our news report was a factual account of events that day, and intrusion in our editorial process is unwarranted. We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world.”
Al Jazeera’s accusation that Malaysia’s censorship system is the most authoritarian they have experienced anywhere in the world is a particularly stinging indictment of a regime that has spent hundreds of millions on cultivating its international image.
In fact it has long been the case that only pro-government organisations ever qualify for print or media licences in Malaysia and that these all slavishly adopt a pro-government stance on each and every issue.
Astro itself is run by the pro-BN crony billionaire Ananda Krishnan and it has been given exclusive rights by the government to act as the sole platform carrying 24 hour news channels, like the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera to viewers in Malaysia.
In its own defence Astro this week admitted that it is only allowed to operate in accordance with “National Content Regulations”, which media organisations are supposed to put into practice through ‘self-censorship’.
The Al Jazeera statement demands to know what these content regulations consist of and how breaches are assessed? The station is clearly particularly outraged at Astro’s opinion that it is entitled to censor news reports without even informing either the news channel or viewers! [see Astro statement].
Sarawak Report can now reveal for the first time just how the sinister and arbitrary system of TV News censorship works at Astro. Sources have revealed that the satellite station employs people round the clock under the job title “News Control”.
Astro’s “News Controllers” have the editorial responsibility of scouring all the news coming in and demanding edits on anything they judge to be contrary to the Home Ministry censorship rules!
“They do four hour shifts, monitoring news output particularly from CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, and deciding if anything is not to go to air”, explained our source.
For reputable broadcasters like Al Jazeera, this means that objective reports can be turned into biased reports, but that Malaysian viewers are given the deliberate impression that this was the actual voice of the international news station.
If the BBC and Al Jazeera have knowingly entered into commercial agreements that permitted such tampering the reputational issues could be highly damaging.
However, it is most likely that it is Malaysia’s secretive authoritarianism that has been at last fully exposed by this shameful incident.
Today the British MP Tom Greatrex, a member of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Malaysia made his own statement deploring the tampering of BBC News by Malaysia:
“Freedom of expression is a vital element of any democracy.
For people all across the globe, the BBC World Service is a vital lifeline in the search for truth.
William Hague [Foreign Secretary] must make it clear in no uncertain terms to the Malaysian government that it is entirely unacceptable to censor the BBC.”
Sarawak Report has been unable to reach Astro Channel’s communications officers today.
We have been requesting both a copy of the National Content Regulations which they are forced to abide by and to learn exactly what their criteria for censoring material is.
Censorship is regarded as an extremely serious issue in most countries.
However, documents that we have obtained showing the Home Ministry’s rules on Film Censorship, give the impression that in Malaysia the restrictions are wide-ranging and arbitrary and apply to anything that might be construed as undesirable by the ruling political regime!
The first main category of 4 areas of censorship outlined by the Government refers to ‘matters of security and public order’.
The list of offences makes clear that anything that criticises or shows the government or its agents in a bad light is to be censored. Under such a heading bad behaviour by police officers during the Bersih rally would certainly be included!
Under such rules it is plain that censorship should apply to anything that reveals corruption, illegality, stupidity or misbehaviour on the part of the BN government or anyone working for it.
It is clear that Malaysia, which poses as a democracy, has censorship laws that would befit the most authoritarian and dictatorial states in the world!
Should Al Jazeera and the BBC and CNN be allowing their news broadcasts to pass through such 3rd party censorship without them even being told when these rules have been applied?