From the Selangor Times 12 October 2012. Ask Lord Bobo is a weekly column by LoyarBurok where all your profound, abstruse, erudite, hermetic, recondite, sagacious, and other thesaurus-described queries are answered!
Dear Lord Bobo, I read that Malaysiakini won a court case and they can now publish a newspaper. Why is this important? How come Selangor Times has no problem? And what’s the big deal – who reads print anymore, anyway? (News Junkie, via email)
You see, very much like the kings of the frog-like creatures in the fourth planet of the Beta Centauri star system, the Malaysian government are benevolent rulers intent on protecting their citizenry (ie you) from versions of the news or “alternative views” that may confuse you – you poor simple minded things.
Thus, despite the right to freedom of expression embodied in Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution, anyone who wants to publish a newspaper or periodical must get a permit.
And anyone who owns a printing press must get a licence.
All this is contained in a law called the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), the same law that the Home Minister routinely uses to ban books that are deemed too confusing to Muslims or which are said to be a threat to public order.
So essentially, in this self (and often) proclaimed first world democracy, freedom of expression is upheld. Provided you get a permit. And a printing licence.
Which is to say, you are free to speak but we may blindfold you, gag you, and tie up your arms and legs.
Back to the case. The online newspaper Malaysiakini (who purport to bring readers the news and views that matter – Pah! Who are they to decide what matters? Who do they think they are… Lord Bobo?) applied to His Holiness the Minister of Home Affairs for a permit to publish an English print newspaper imaginatively called Malaysiakini.
The Minister, after a long long time and no doubt after some curry puffs and overly-sweetened tea, had one of his civil servants send a letter saying the application “tidak boleh dipertimbangkan” which literally means “could not be considered”. How truly insulting that is – the application was deemed to be not even worthy of consideration!
Anyway, His Supreme Eminenceness was suitably irritated by this display of arrogance and injustice that we mind-controlled a trusty (and often lusty) band of our minions to file what is quaintly called a “judicial review”, for an order of certiorari (which is like a Hulk smash – an order to quash the decision of the Home Minister).
As a slight aside (and an educational one), an order of certiorari has a long history, coming from the prerogative writs that were issued by the Court of King’s Bench against inferior tribunals who had exceeded their jurisdiction. Nowadays, the only way to cancel a decision of a public authority is by filing an application within three months for judicial review, asking for relief – one form of relief is an order of certiorari, which effectively cancels the decision.
Justice Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim allowed Malaysiakini’s application, and quashed the decision. He remitted Malaysiakini’s application back to the Minister to be determined by him in accordance with the law.
Crucially, the judge said that the minister had fundamentally erred in law when the minister said the ability to print a newspaper was merely a “privilege” enjoyed by citizens, subject to the permission of the minister.
The learned judge held that the ability to publish a newspaper was a “right”, and formed part of the right of freedom of expression which is guaranteed to all Malaysian citizens as a “fundamental liberty” under Part II of the Malaysian Federal Constitution. The judge did not take into account the fact that the government only occasionally deems the Federal Constitution worthy of consideration.
The judge, echoing his sister judge Justice Rohana Yusuf in Her Ladyship’s decision a few months ago in the case that quashed the Home Minister’s declaration of Bersih as an unlawful society, also said that the Home Minister’s decision was irrational.
All the grounds he had given for refusing the application (including the fact that there were already too many newspapers in Malaysia, and that Malaysiakini printed news in a “sentimental manner”, was not neutral and was reported in a way that incited controversy) was also irrational.
The judge pointed out that the minister had not considered at all the numerous awards for good journalism won by Malaysiakini.
The impact of this decision is huge. For example, nowadays, any residents’ association or society tries to get out of the requirements of the PPPA by issuing their newsletters to “members only”. They cannot just print a LoyarBurok newspaper, for example, but must get the Home Minister’s permission first.
Now, the judge has said they have a right to print such a newsletter protected by the Federal Constitution. Thus, the right can only be restricted if it is shown that the proposed newsletter is a threat to national security, public order or is immoral.
In practice, this may not actually be a good thing after all, as our authorities have shown extreme skill in being able to deem even the most trifling of matters as a threat to national security.
Oh, you were wondering how Selangor Times got its licence! Well, as it is published by the Selangor Government, it is expressly exempted from the operation of the PPPA.
And as to who reads print? You do, obviously.
Lord Bobo is rather proud of the fact that the report of this case made it into the world renowned New York Times, and was featured in its print edition on Oct 3 on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: “In Malaysia, Court Backs Right to Print A Newspaper”
Rather strangely, the mainstream Malaysian media did not give it prominent coverage.
The last we heard, the irrational one (the judge said it, not us) has said that an appeal against the decision of the court is being considered. It doesn’t take an omniscient being like Lord Bobo to be surprised by this.
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