CIJ disputes RM10,000 fine imposed on radio station

CIJ calls on MCMC to allow BFM’s appeal and to cancel the RM10,000 fine “wrongly imposed on the radio station”.

Joe Fernandez | December 17, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has called on the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to adhere to the Federal Constitution and to international standards on freedom of expression.

The CIJ wants the MCMC to review the license conditions imposed on broadcasters and remove any requirement for the pre-approval of all content or that place overly broad and onerous requirements on the broadcaster.

The CIJ was disagreeing with BFM radio being fined RM10,000 by the MCMC for an interview with Islamic scholar Reza Aslan that was aired on Oct 21 last year.

“We call on the MCMC to allow BFM’s appeal and to cancel the RM10,000 fine that CIJ feels has been wrongly imposed on BFM radio,” said CIJ directors Sonia Randhawa and Jac SM Kee in a statement.

The CIJ was referring to news reports that MCMC has deemed BFM to be in breach of the conditions under their Individual Content Applications Service Provider (CASP-I) broadcast license. The license reportedly states that the regulator’s approval must be obtained before any live or delayed telecast.

”It is extremely onerous to require broadcasters to submit all their content for pre-approval by the regulator,” said the CIJ.

“Such a condition produces a chilling effect on broadcasters as it may cause them to be overcautious and practise self-censorship. This is an infringement on the freedom of expression and damaging to media freedom, in particular.”

MCMC has also stated in a previous case involving another radio station that the CASP-I license has a prohibition on content that may upset the sensibilities and sentiments of any race or religion in this country, it added.

”CIJ calls on the MCMC to ensure that any license conditions imposed on broadcasters are subject to and read in the light of the Federal Constitution, in particular Article 10 which guarantees freedom of expression.”

Restrictions on freedom of expression can only be imposed by Parliament in the interests of national security, public order, and public morality, it pointed out. “These restrictions must be shown to be necessary and proportionate.”

”The prohibition on upsetting the sensibilities and sentiments of any race or religion is an extremely broad condition and an overly onerous one to place on broadcasters.”

The feelings of a particular religion’s adherents may be hurt.

Fulfilling this condition will require the regulator to artificially construct what a particular race or religion’s sensibilities and sentiments are, said the CIJ in its statement. Given the breadth of views encompassed by any one race, it continued, this is an impossible task. “Race and religion are not established, static notions but constructs that are fluid and constantly in flux”.

“The above condition is thus susceptible to various equally valid interpretations including different interpretations by both the broadcaster and the regulator,” said the CIJ. “It is not the job of the broadcaster to second guess what is meant by the state or the regulator, but rather for any conditions to be expressed in specific and narrow terms.”

”Views and discussions on ethnicity or religion should not be unnecessarily and disproportionately curbed, simply on the notion that the feelings of a particular religion’s adherents may be hurt.”

The CIJ holds that “not only is this a breach of human rights standards on freedom of expression, it is also harmful to proper discourse and debate in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious country”.

”If the government and the MCMC disagreed with Reza Aslan’s views, they could have made their own arguments against them, rather than attempting to shut down healthy debate,” said CIJ.

Reza Aslan had made comments disagreeing with the Court of Appeal’s decision which barred Catholic newsletter Herald from using the word Allah to refer to God.

It was acknowledged that there are strong opposing views in relation to this subject. It has also been shown however, in various forums that people can discuss this issue calmly, even if they may disagree.