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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sembang-Sembang Forum: Freedom of Information Act

Public Forum: Why a Freedom Of Information Act?

Joint organise by: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) Penang, Sembang-sembang Forum

Freedom of information act, why such an act is necessary? If you want to know more? Please join us at:
Date: 15th May 2010
Time: 8.30p.m.
Venue: Komplek Masyarakat Penyayang, Jalan Utama, Penang.

You can get fifferent views from the different background such as: experience of Selangor and Penangstate, Legal, Local Councillors, NGOs, media and press, Penang local communities etc.

Panelists:
- Ms. Latheefa Koya, Lawyer, Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MBPJ) Local Councillors, Information Chief of People's Justice Party (PKR)
- Mr. Himanshu Bhatt, Chief of Northern Region Bureau, The Sun daily
- Ms. Lim Kah Cheng, Lawyer, Pulau Pinang Municipal Council (MPPP) Local Councillors (NGOs' quota)
- Mr. George Aeria, President of Tanjung Bunga Residents' Association (TBRA)

Free admission. Kindly to contact Mr. Ong Jing Cheng at 012-7583779 if you require more information.

Location map, Jalan Utama, Pulau Pinang



View Larger Map



· BASIC STATISTICS and FACTS
· Under Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion
and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through
any media and regardless of frontiers.”
· Article 10 of the Federal
Constitution states that subject to certain conditions, “every citizen has
the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
· In the 2007 Press
Freedom Index, Malaysia dropped from 92nd in 2006 to 124th, out of
169 countries surveyed.
· On Freedom House’s Global
Press Freedom ranking for 2008, Malaysia placed 141st out of 195
countries.
· The Sedition Act, Internal Security Act and Official Secrets Act impose strong
restrictions on the press and dissemination of information. Under the Official
Secrets Act, a government document is classified as open, restricted,
confidential, secret, or top secret. Only “open” documents are available to the
public, and publishing or possessing all other documents is a crime.
· Classification of
documents under the Official Secrets Act is final and not subject to
judicial review.
· The Broadcasting Act
1988 allows the Information Minister to decide who can own broadcast
stations.
· The Printing Presses and
Publishing Act 1984 (PPPA) requires all print periodicals to obtain a permit
from the Home Affairs Minister. The permit must be renewed yearly and
can be revoked or suspended at any time for various reasons; the
decision of the Minister is final and not subject to judicial review.
· Maliciously publishing
false news is a criminal offense; however, it is presumed that all false
news is published maliciously, and the onus is on the defendant to prove
otherwise.
· Under section 7(1) of
the PPPA the Home Affairs Minister has the power to ban the publication of
any book. From 1971 to mid -2007 the government banned 1,446 books.

· WHY an FOI ACT is NECESSARY
· Communicating
and receiving information and opinions
is a fundamental right of citizens, as enshrined under Article 19 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, the Federal Constitution
acknowledges the right to freedom of speech and expression.
· Making information on
government activities and operations readily available would reduce
corruption and abuse of power. The increased transparency would hold
public servants accountable for their actions and encourage responsibility.
· Showing that the
government has nothing to hide would increase public confidence in
the government and shore up its credibility.
· Current legislation is broadly
worded and arbitrary, often presenting significant challenges to
members of the public seeking to know how their taxes are being spent.
· Under the Official
Secrets Act almost any government document can be considered a secret,
and possession of its information therefore illegal, without any checks or
balances to ensure that secrecy is in the public interest.
· There is currently no
clear or standard process to obtain public information, nor any obligation
on the part of a public agency to cooperate with such requests. A standardised
petition process would expedite the release of information while
protecting secrets when it is in the national interest to do so.
· The arbitrary power of
the government to muzzle the press and to control the media poses a direct
threat to the right of citizens to know how their elected government is
using its authority and their tax monies.


· POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
· A Freedom of
Information Act should be pursued and legislated at both Federal and
State levels.
· A Whistleblowers'
Protection Act should be passed to protect those who disclose information
so as to expose malpractice and matters of similar concern
· The Official Secrets
Act should be restricted for use on material that are strictly in
connection with seriously endangering national security, and in connection with
defence and foreign relations. The rule of thumb should be for citizens to have maximum access to information especially information related to public
interest - with particular exceptions, which should be clearly articulated.
· Draft
legislation should not be classified under
the Official Secrets Act, so that Parliamentarians and the public should be
given the opportunity to debate and analyse Bills before they are passed. The
business community would also benefit from this.
· Do away with
the practice of book banning, in
conjunction with national efforts to stimulate creativity, innovation and
critical thinking. (In the age of globalisation, books are readily bought or
read online.)
· The Sedition Act
should be amended to allow for greater freedom of expression and
reasonable, constructive critique of national policy.
· Establish a Parliamentary
Select Committee on Media Law Reform to review all media laws to ensure all
media regulations are justified.
· The Printing Presses and
Publications Act (PPPA) should only require media outlets to register with
the Information Ministry without printing license and annual publishing permit
requirements.
· The government should
implement the recommendations of the Centre for Independent Journalism’s letter
of demand calling for freedom of expression and access to information, signed
by almost 40 other civil society organisations. Read more at their website.


· Pakatan
Rakyat
· Opposes the Internal
Security Act, Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act and PPPA.
· Supports a Freedom of
Information Act and whistle blower protection legislation.

The
article is extracted from the Centre of Public Policies Studies :Freedom of Information Factsheet

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