KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 14 – An NGO championing media freedom has urged Pakatan Harapan (PH) government leaders not to threaten the media for questioning the academic credentials of some of them.
This follows Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s warning of possible legal action against those who make “defamatory statements” about his qualifications, including pro-Barisan Nasional media outlets.
The Centre for Independent Journalism told FMT that while anyone had the right to sue for defamation, it was important that “such actions do not cause a chilling effect, and that the right of the media to question ministers, including over their academic credentials, is not damaged”.
Lim, whose qualifications were recently questioned by MCA president Wee Ka Siong, is the latest PH leader to come under scrutiny over his academic credentials. Earlier, a deputy minister had come under fire over a similar issue.
In a report in The Star, Wee was quoted as saying Lim’s personal website stated that he became a professional accountant in 1983, while the Monash University website showed that he only obtained his degree in 1984.
On Monday, Lim’s political secretary Tony Pua announced that the DAP secretary-general “reserves the right” to file a case against those making defamatory claims that continue to “diminish his position, stature and credibility”.
Dobby Chew, project coordinator at human rights watchdog Suaram, told FMT that media organisations which published such stories must be able to defend their publication in instances such as this.
He said politicians, ministers or other individuals were fully within their rights to initiate defamation suits. “It is up to them to defend their own image or reputation as they see fit,” he added.
However, he also cautioned government representatives, including Lim, not to pursue defamation suits against media organisations on a “whim” as it might dampen freedom of expression.
“Furthermore, laws on defamation and the defences available may not necessarily be robust enough to protect media freedom.
“Ministers from PH ought to take note of their current role, influence and position as the government of the day, and not contribute to restriction of freedom of expression as their predecessors did,” he said.
Dobby also added to the growing call for an independent and impartial media council.
Such a council would regulate the conduct of media entities and provide the necessary support when needed, he said.
Last November, A Kadir Jasin, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s media and communications adviser, said Putrajaya wanted to expedite the process of setting up a Malaysian media council.