The Astro satellite channel have contacted Sarawak Report to acknowledge that they DID censor the BBC news report on the Bersih 3.0 rally!
Moreover, they have defiantly criticised the internationally respected British Broadcasting Corporation for questioning their right to do so!
The issue goes to the heart of the issues over democracy in Malaysia and it raises huge concerns about the decisions by key world News organisations, such as the BBC, to get involved in commercial deals with repressive regimes like BN.
Debate has been raging since this website exposed how a news report, prepared by the veteran BBC reporter Emily Buchanan on Saturday’s Bersih 3.0 rally for the broadcaster’s World News Channel, had been doctored by the Malaysian satellite channel.
We revealed that viewers in Malaysia saw 30 seconds less of the report than people watching the same news bulletin across the rest of the world.
These crucial seconds included a scene of a police officer apparently shooting at peaceful civilians and also statements by demonstrators explaining why they had taken to the streets to protest at election rigging.
The removal of these sequences could be judged to have introduced a bias away from the more even-handed and objective approach of the original report, in an attempt to show the police and the government in a better light.
However, as the resulting discussion has revealed, this form of “self-censorship’ by press and broadcast licence holders is commonplace in Malaysia. In order to keep their licences, organisations have to abide by a ‘Content Code’ laid down by the BN regime.
“Surprised and disappointed”!
In today’s statement to Sarawak Report Astro’s Head of Communications, Tammy Toh announced:
“On behalf of Astro please find our response to your story re BBC. Astro [is] required to comply with content guidelines.
Rohaizad Mohamed, Senior Vice President of Broadcast Operations at Astro said, “As a licensed broadcaster, Astro is required to comply with the national content regulations.
When it comes to international content providers, Astro reserves the right to edit their international channels for the purposes of complying with the content regulations.
We are surprised and somewhat disappointed that our long-standing partner, the BBC, when, issuing its statement, did not take cognizance of the duty of Astro to comply with local content regulations.”[Statement from Astro Channel 1st May 2012]
The statement puts Astro and its supporter the BN regime, which has controlled Malaysia in the guise of a democracy for over 50 years, in a head to head clash with the BBC.
Loggerheads with the BBC
Yesterday the corporation made clear that it was appalled at any attempt to censor its reporting, in a strongly-worded statement deploring any attempt to curb press freedom:
“During the week of World Press Freedom Day, it would be deplorable if access to independent and impartial news was being prevented in any way. We would strongly condemn any blocking of the trusted news that we broadcast around the world including via distribution partners.”[BBC spokesperson]
National Content Regulations!
However, the statement by Astro Channel, which is owned by a multi-billionaire BN crony Ananda Krishnan, makes it clear that it puts so-called “National Content Regulations” before the independent and impartial news for which the BBC has a world-wide reputation.
In fact, Astro is prepared to go further. It not only censored the BBC report, but it did so without informing its Malaysian audience. Malaysian viewers were misled into thinking that the doctored report was the genuine voice of the BBC!
We also now have information that Al Jazeera’s reporting was likewise restricted on the Bersih coverage. This means that the role of Astro is to draw the wool over Malaysian people’s eyes, not only about events in their own country but over what is being seen about their own country by the rest of the world!
We ask whether such arbitrary tampering and doctoring is seriously what has been laid down by the BN Government when it comes to National Content Regulations? If so, who makes these decisions and on what grounds are the public being deliberately misled in this way at short notice at the whim ?
What guided Rohaizad Mohamed, Senior Vice President of Broadcast Operations, in his split second decisions about what to cut out and censor and what to leave in? Is it just a “self-censorship” judgement call by the station as to what UMNO would be happy to see and what not? Or is there some list of key matters to abide by?
Sarawak Report will be seeking clarification from Astro on these matters and also seeking a copy of the National Content Regulations to try and find out exactly how censorship is practised in Malaysia and for what purpose!
BBC must respond and Al Jazeera must investigate
The seriousness of this issue can not be under-estimated with regard to the reputational risk to the BBC and to Al Jazeera. How these programme makers respond will define their trustworthiness as news organisations and discover to the world what comes first, money or the truth?
If the BBC is prepared to allow its news to be censored for the convenience of authoritarian regimes, then its value as Britain’s bastion of freedom and objectivity would surely become questionable, as would its continued funding by the British taxpayer!