Plus the Editorial by The Malaysian Reserve ....
Rocky's Bru on THURSDAY: Journalists and insecure people in power
THE last time three-time ISA detainee, the late Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail, spoke to me of the Home Minister who sent him to his last incarceration that lasted five long years, he simply said: "He put me away because he wanted to be the Prime Minister. He feared me. He used the Internal Security Act because he was insecure."
Samad, who was an influential journalist and close to the late Tun Abdul Razak, our second Prime Minister, was released in 1981 by Dr Mahathir Mohamad in one of his first acts as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie never made it to the premiership and died in January this year.
THIS week, more than a year after Datuk Seri Najib Razak released ISA detainees in one of his first acts as our sixth Prime Minister, the proposed amendments to the ISA Act finally got the go-ahead from the Attorney-General's Chambers and will be tabled in Parliament soon.
The proposed amendments include the right to stage peaceful assemblies. "Treatment of detainees, detention period, powers of (Home) minister ... will be suited to the occasion," said Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Huissein.
The anti-ISA movement in the country, which is demanding the abolition of the Act, won't be satisfied. But most rational Malaysians will appreciate that there's still need for a law that is able to act as a strong deterrent.
We still remember Al-Maunah, the group that wanted to take over the country by violent means. We remember Mas Selamat who escaped from a Singapore prison (no sympathies for him from the anti-ISA movement). We have seen what the "Reds" in Bangkok did that forced a whole nation to kneel, and the shooting of the general said to be one of the Reds' ringleaders was a reminder that violence is the only option to preventive laws, and violence begets violence.
And only in September last year, the Indonesian authorities succeeded in ending the reign of terror of Nordin Mat Top, the bomber from Malaysia. If Nordin had been incarcerated in Malaysia uinder the ISA, he could have been saved such a tragic end. He would have been rehabilitated and in time returned to society a "cured" man.
Most democratic countries have their security laws. Guantanamo is America's Kamunting and despite Barack Obama's ideals that helped make him President of the most powerful couintry on Earth, the facility is still there for Americans' own good.
As of last month, 181 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Don't forget, two Malaysians were detained at the facility as terrorist suspects.
THE biggest problem with the ISA, most will agree, is the power vested in one man — the Home Minister.
In the case of Samad, it was believed to be one man's call. In September 2008, an overzealous Home Minister ordered the detentiion of a youing journalist for 24 hours and later, in the face of angry criticism, said it was for her own safety.
It was not just abuse of power, it was a mockery of the Act that was meant to secuire the citizens of this country against the most severe threats.
THE same is true with the Securities Commission Act 1993, which bestows almost absolute power to the authority.
This time it's not even the Home Minister but the SC itself. The only thing the SC chairman can't do that the Home Minister can under the ISA is incarcerate her/his enemy for eternity.
The SC can, however, threaten to send you to jail for five years like they did to Samad under the ISA. Plus, or fined up to RM1 million.
That amount of money may be small to corporate players, company directors and those at the apex of their wealth. But to a journalist, RM300 is too much money to pay for a speeding ticket. So, it's as good as going to jail for the business journalists whom the SC have cited Section 134, if convicted.
We are certainly happy to note that the SC is finally waking up from a long slumber, and wants to be seen as doing its job. But let's be professional about it. Journalists have a responsibility to the community they serve and the SC must start to understand this.
But like veteran journalist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin said, journalists must now watch the SC's conduct even more closely. Is he hinting that there's something amiss at the Commission? Time will tell, but for now the human rights activists have a new punching bag — Section 134 of the Securities Commission Act.
Ahirudin Attan is group editorial adviser for The Malay Mail, Bernama TV and The Malaysian Reserve. He blogs at rockybru.com.my.
What the Malaysian Reserve says...
THE uproar over the unpleasant encounter between financial journalists and the Securities Commission in connection to an investigation on the exit of Kenmark Industrial Co (M) Bhd's substantial shareholder Datuk Ishak Ismail has yet to fizzle.
The issue has raised questions on the capital market regulator's understanding of the duty of journalists and their need to honour the confidentiality of their sources.
The latter is a cardinal rule of journalism. At this point, the extent of which journalists are legally bound to follow a directive that could result in jeopardising the identity of their sources while assisting in investigations is still untested in the country.
To date, the SC had summoned four journalists, one each from The Star, Business Times, The Malaysian Reserve and The Edge, to give statements in relation to their write-ups about the troubled furniture-maker.
Malaysian journalists have generally been spared from being cast as scapegoats by the authorities, but the recent encounters with the regulator demonstrate that journalists can inadvertently be caught in the eye of the storm and find themselves at the ugly end of those who wield the big stick, for merely doing their job.
It was only right that editors of media organisations and the National Union of Journalists came to their defence.
Indeed, it was uncalled for and unjust if the journalist concerned was made to feel as if it was an "interrogation" and not otherwise.
After all, she was merely assisting in the investigation and not the one being investigated.
On its part, the SC maintained that statements from all the witnesses were taken by experienced officers and that it had full faith that they had acted professionally throughout the interview.
But that's not the end of it. A journalist from this paper was later directed to surrender her mobile phone for a forensic team to extract data from the device.
It is unprecedented for a journalist to be compelled to do so, as the act itself will put at stake the trust that the confidentiality of sources will be protected at all times.
The Centre for Independent Journalism was spot on by saying that the manner in which the investigation was carried out showed that the SC did not understand the responsibility and duty of journalists, which is to provide information to the public on matters of public interest and to honour confidentiality agreements with sources.
Granted, the SC can call anyone to assist in investigations into breaches of securities laws under Section 134 of the Securities Commission Act 1993. This is in fact what the public is expecting, especially in high profile cases.
But, in pursuing perpetrators of securities offences, the regulator needs to be mindful not to sweep everyone assisting in the investigations with the same brush.
Going forward, it is vital for the SC to strike a balance on how it exercises its investigation owers to enable journalists to maintain their professional ethics while assisting the regulator in the investigations.
It certainly does not benefit the SC if it fails to exercise its wide powers with great care or for the Press to retaliate by boycotting the regulator, as has been suggested, in the long run.
In fact, this expectation transcends the SC, as it is also applicable to other regulatory bodies and authorities such as the police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Bank Negara Malaysia.
This is certainly not the last time journalists will be summoned to assist in investigations. And, it is best for everyone to exercise their powers responsibly. We need each other.