24 October, 2007

No ISA detention under Pak Lah ?

The country has a more positive image with the rule of law being upheld under the present Government.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, who said this, added that as far as he knew, there had been no detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as Prime Minister in 2003.

“This is a positive thing,” he said after opening a human rights seminar for supreme council members of his United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Organisation.

(From The Star online here)

The Minister in the Prime Minister Department, Bernard Dompok's statement that the government has not arrested any person under the ISA since Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Prime Minister, has caused quite a stir. His statement was published in The Star on 22 October and was refuted by the Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA as well as human rights organization SUARAM. In the following letter, CIJ questions The Star for publishing the Minister's statement wholesale and why the basic practice of journalism, that is of fact checking, has apparently been missing in this case.

Minister erred, information must be corrected on ISA
by CIJ, 23 October 2007
Source : CIJ

Centre for Independent Journalism
27C Jalan Sarikei, off Jalan Pahang
53000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03 4023 0772, 03 4024 9840
Fax: 03 4023 0769

23 October 2007

Dear editor,

Re: Minister erred, information must be corrected on ISA

We refer to the news report titled "Malaysia's image improves - No ISA detention under Pak Lah", published in The Star on 22 October on page 22.

In this article, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok was quoted as saying that the government has not detained anyone under the Internal Security Act (ISA) since the current Prime Minister took office in 2003.

Clearly, the minister has erred in his statement. For one, the latest detention was reported as recent as 29 August, in which the law was invoked against several persons said to be spreading rumors about a racial clash in Johor Bahru.

Further, other cases during the tenure of our present PM are amply provided by the Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA, a coalition of civil society organizations for the abolition of ISA, in their statement released yesterday to refute the minister's claim.

There are two issues at hand. One is the sense of authority given to ministers and politicians who are quoted, and quite often, treated as the primary and only source of information by the media. In this case, the source himself was factually wrong in his statement. Secondly, the media has a role to play in checking and verifying information. This is one of the fundamental practices in ethical journalism. It will be useful to know if the minister was asked for clarifications or challenged for his data and how far the reporter and editor responsible for the story exercised rigour in their writing and editing. A quick research would have revealed the factual errors in the minister's statement.

We are also perturbed that the news headline is of such generality - "Malaysia's image improves" as to disregard Malaysia's performance in other indicators of international importance - the fall in the recent Press Freedom Index, and the slip in the Corruption Perception Index since 2005.

CIJ is concerned that the news has a misleading effect on the public. It certainly calls into question the credibility of your organisation in providing information to your readers.We hope that your organization will publish an article correcting the facts in the article as a measure to keep the public accurately informed.


Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Director
Centre for Independent Journalism

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