Groups welcome review of Printing Presses and Publications Act

PETALING JAYA: Several groups have welcomed the Government's move to review the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

This comes after Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi pledged on Tuesday (March 13) to review the controversial PPPA, a law that is seen to curtail freedom of speech, in particular, freedom of the press.

Under the PPPA, all printing presses need to obtain a license that can be revoked or suspended for any period.

A media lecturer at University of Nottingham Malaysia, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, lauds the Government's move to review the Act.

"I hope that there will be a review towards repealing the Act entirely," she said.

"It is an anachronistic Act. It doesn't serve any purpose apart from being used arbitrarily against the media and to control (news) content."

The National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ) also urged the Government to repeal the PPPA and other laws that curb the freedom of the press.

"The media industry wants to see the Government abolish the PPPA and other relevant laws with the setting up of an independent self-regulating media body so that professional journalism can be adhered to, (for journalists) to perform their duties responsibly, safe from any government interference," said NUJ general secretary Chin Sung Chew.

Chin noted that Malaysia's press freedom was ranked 144th out of 180 countries in a Reporters San Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) 2017 press freedom index.

In 2016, Malaysia fell to its lowest ever position to 146 out of 179 countries.

"The media industry and the public are seeing these figures regrettably as a worrying inclination stunting the growth and development of the country's media industry," said Chin.

"The NUJ calls for the government to re-examine the issues curbing press freedom in Malaysia," he said.

Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) echoed the call for the PPPA to be abolished.

"We believe that the most contentious element of the Act is the need for a permit to publish. It could and has been used against publications viewed as critical of the government of the day," said Geramm in a statement.

"We firmly believe that there are other existing laws which could be used to regulate the content of printed media and the Government should return the right to publish without the need to apply for a permit," it said.

Geramm said they welcomed Dr Ahmad Zahid's announcement of the #mediacouncil hashtag to solicit proposals and suggestions from media practitioners for the review of the PPPA.

"We therefore encourage all stakeholders, particularly from among the media fraternity, to share their views towards the long-term move of setting-up an independent self-regulatory body for the media," it said.

The last amendments to the PPPA were done in 2012.

Previously, the Home Minister had the "absolute discretion" to suspend or revoke a newspaper's printing or publishing permit without stating a reason. Permits also had to be renewed annually.

After July 2012, newspapers no longer needed to renew their permit annually and the minister's decisions could be challenged in court.

In a joint statement, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Media Freedom Committee Malaysia and the Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJM) joined the calls to abolish the Act completely.

"With the Communications and Multimedia Act having provisions to deal with digital media, and the government also drafting a law specifically to deal with the fake news phenomenon, the opportunity is ripe to abolish the PPPA completely," they said.

"With most traditional media houses already shifting their focus to a digital platform, the PPPA serves very little purpose apart from continuing to provide the government with the authority to take discretionary action against print publications in Malaysia," it said.

WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Committee Malaysia and IoJM said that Dr Ahmad Zahid's recognition of the efforts from media practitioners in Malaysia to set-up a self-regulating structure is a "giant step" forward.

On Tuesday (March 13), Dr Ahmad Zahid had said that the Home Ministry wants to engage with news people on the setting up of a media council. An alternative is to appoint a press ombudsman for self-regulation of the industry and its practitioners.

"Past dialogues to this effect had always hit a brick wall, and the Committee hopes that this recognition and promise of a future dialogue is not another false dawn for the media fraternity here," they said.

"The dialogue and talks with media stakeholders must start as soon possible to keep the momentum going, as opposed to waiting for the upcoming general elections to pass," they added.

Co-chair of the Bar Council Human Rights Committee, Andrew Khoo, said that the Malaysian Bar supports the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, and is in principle opposed to the Act.

Khoo said the guidelines under the PPPA were initially never part of the law, and were more like administrative guidelines.

Over time, Khoo explained that the guidelines developed the "force of law" because they were never challenged.

"We welcome any move to do away with, or move away from, these guidelines," he said.

However, Khoo hopes that the loosening of guidelines would not mean "tightening other (guidelines)" that will restrict freedom of speech and expression.