The New York Times has criticised the outgoing US Attorney-General, Eric Holder Jr, for failing to recognise a reporter’s privilege to protect sources. Holder has said before that “no reporter’s going to jail as long as I’m attorney-general” — but New York Times reporter James Risen faces a government demand to testify against a confidential source in a high-profile leak case.
The NY Times blamed Holder for “undermining robust journalism by his overzealous leak investigations” and urged him to drop the demand against James Risen.
The editorial came on the eve of a meeting with the Justice Department over guidelines on subpoenas and search warrants to obtain information from reporters — which, the Times said, contained a central flaw that imperils news gathering.
So — even in the land of the brave and the free, the effort to maintain press freedom is a continuing struggle between the press and authority, proving the adage that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. What more for us here in Malaysia, the land of the obviously not very brave and the definitely not free? Who speaks up for the rights of the press? Even the press does not.
The New York Times editorial
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who announced his planned resignation in September, bears responsibility for undermining robust journalism by his overzealous leak investigations and his opposition to recognizing a reporter’s constitutional or common law privilege to protect sources.
Perhaps seeking to improve on that dismal record, Mr. Holder issued new guidelines in February concerning prosecutors’ use of subpoenas and search warrants to obtain information from reporters. Those guidelines include some valuable changes, but they also contain a central flaw that requires prompt correction, as a group of media representatives will be urging at a meeting with Justice Department officials scheduled for Thursday.
Instead of retaining straightforward language telling prosecutors not to “impair the news-gathering function” from the previous set of guidelines, new wording unveiled with release of the overhauled guidelines in February calls for avoiding the issuance of subpoenas that “might unreasonably impair ordinary news gathering.” The change by Mr. Holder and his aides could invite prosecutors in the future to claim that news gathering that entails the disclosure of classified information (as national security reporting typically does) is out of the “ordinary” and, therefore, exempted from the guidelines.
Mr. Holder should make sure the guideline’s wording is changed back to avoid that potential loophole.
In a related development, Mr. Holder said on Wednesday that he expects “a resolution” soon in the case of James Risen, a New York Times reporter, who has refused to testify against a confidential source in a high-profile leak case. Mr. Holder reiterated his earlier pledge that “no reporter’s going to jail as long as I’m attorney general” and should drop the demand against Mr. Risen. Even Michael Hayden, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has publicly questioned its wisdom and necessity.
» The New York Times
When will Malaysia begin to protect journalists?
More than a dozen journalists were attacked by police in April 2012 while on duty covering the Bersih rally. Most were photographers. The attackers, as reported by the journalists themselves, were mostly young policemen whose name tags had been removed.One of those attacked, Radzi Razak, then of the Sun and now with Malaysiakini, became a poster boy as part of an international campaign for the protection of journalists.
No one in the police force has ever been charged or punished for physically attacking journalists, removing their camera storage cards and in a couple of cases, damaging photographic equipment.
No one in the police or the government has taken responsibility for a shameful act that was criticised by the Human Rights Commission.
This year, journalist Susan Loone of Malaysiakini was arrested by the police under the Sedition Act for merely reporting on what a politician said.
Nothing in what Susan Loone wrote can even remotely be regarded as “seditious”, taking the word to mean rousing the people to rise up and topple authority, or as “hate” speech.
The fact is plainly that that the police preferred to take exception to a politician’s negative remark about the police which was reported.
Since when did making criticism of the police force become a crime?
This year, another journalist, a reporter with the Sun, became the subject of public abuse and insults by the Home Minister, Ahmad Zahidi Hamid, because the reporter had allegedly misquoted the minister.
So a reporter made a mistake. Does that justify a Minister behaving like a thug and hurling public insults and public abuse at a journalist?
Ahmad Zahidi has in the past routinely abused Malaysiakini in particular and now has chosen to use his high position to subject a lowly reporter to public abuse — yet at the same time tried to make a big deal about press ethics.Does he even know the meaning of the word? Or of other words, like “honour” and “integrity” and “public service”?
Did the sub-contracted louts of Umno Penang take their cues from the thuggish and bullying behaviour of the home minister when they attacked citizens at Speakers’ Corner recently?
So what standard of ethics and public service allows a Minister to behave like a common lout or a cheap nightclub bouncer? And worse, by the fact that he holds high position, thus encourage the police force (which is under the purview of his ministry), and KDN civil servants who control the media, and Umno division heads to also behave like thugs?
Susan Loone committed no crime in doing her job as a professional journalist. Neither did the Sun reporter.
The crime lies not in what was reported.
The crime is not that a journalist reported a negative remark or made a mistake.
The crime is a government and a police force that believes it is above the law.
The crime lies in a police force that has shown, by its actions, that it prefers to protect politicians of the right colour, religion or party — and protect themselves — rather than protect the common citizen, or the right of journalists to keep the citizen informed.
The crime is a police force and a political establishment that wants the citizen and the journalist to STFU. Shut up! is what Umno says. And “Shut up!” is what the police force says.
That is a crime against the citizen by any measure.
Furthermore, society loses confidence in its own judiciary system which is meant to protect everyone from attacks on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realize they can attack their targets without ever facing justice.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI).
The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.
This short video is joint produced by The Public Liberties and Human Rights department at Aljazeera, in co-operation with several international organizations who promote press freedom to help raise awareness of the danger of impunity.
Will Malaysia ever have the courage to protect journalists?
Farewell, Mr Bradlee
President of the United States
Legendary Washington Post editor dies at 93
The Washington Post obituary
From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily.
He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.
The most compelling story of Mr. Bradlee’s tenure, almost certainly the one of greatest consequence, was Watergate, a political scandal touched off by The Post’s reporting that ended in the only resignation of a president in U.S. history.
But Mr. Bradlee’s most important decision, made with Katharine Graham, The Post’s publisher, may have been to print stories based on the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration went to court to try to quash those stories, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the New York Times and The Post to publish them.
Newspapering deals with small daily bites from a fruit of indeterminate size. It may take dozens of bites before you are sure it’s an apple. Dozens and dozens more bites before you have any real idea how big the apple might be. It was that way with Watergate.
GOING OFFSTONE: THE BIG STORY
Tribute to an editor’s editor
Washington Post foreign correspondent
Online news journalists will be able to become members of the National Union of Journalists after the union’s proposed amendement to its constitution are approved by the Registrar of Trade Unions.
The amendment, for journalists of online news portals recognised by the Home Ministry, will allow the union to engage in collective bargaining on salaries and benefits and intervene in disputes with employers.
The NUJ has been a union of only newspaper journalists in Peninsular Malaysia since its inception.
The decision to include online journalists was announced after the union’s delegates’ conference last week.
Sin Chew senior reporter Chin Sung Chew retained his position as NUJ president with a 270 vote majority over Osman Lisut of New Straits Times.
Chin has been president since 2011 after taking over from Ha’ta Wahari, who stepped down after being terminated by Utusan Malaysia.
There were only minor changes in the other positions on the Executive Council, with one new deputy general secretariy and new treasurer and deputy treasurer. All others retained their positions:
- deputy presidents, Basir Zahrom (New Straits Times) and Mohd Taufek Razak (Utusan)
- general secreatary Schave Jerome of the Star and a deputy, Mohd Hidhir Bin Basaruddin of Utusan, were re-elected unopposed, while Wan Noor Hayati Alias of NST was unopposed as the other deputy.
- Baharudin Reseh Hj. Yaacob of Utusan was elected unopposed as treasurer with Chan Kok Hong of Kwong Wah Yit Poh was elected deputy in a three-cornered fight.
Among other motions, NUJ delegates agreed to continuously press for the repeal of the
Official Secrets Act and the Printing, Presses and Publications Act while urging the government to enact a Freedom of Information Act and to act on issues regarding union leave.
PUTRAJAYA, Friday 3 October 2014Journalists today handed over to the Government a petition protesting against the arrest of Susan Loone last month under the Sedition Act; they called on the Government to enhance the freedom of citizens by repealing the Act and halting its further use until the law is abolished as promised.
They also called for any charges against Susan to be dropped. Susan, an assistant editor with Malaysiakini, was arrested in Penang on Sept 4 over a report on police action against a state executive councillor.
“We are not merely asking the Government to free Susan Loone of all charges but by presenting our petition, we are also asking for the government to enhance the freedom of all citizens,” said Tashny Sukumaran, spokesperson for the team from the Institute of Journalists Malaysia and Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm) that presented the petition to the Prime Minister’s Office here.
Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad, press secretary to the Prime Minister, received the petition and promised to hand the document over to Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Why lighting a candle is better than sitting in the dark
Khairie Hisyam Aliman
Malay Mail Online
Sometimes we cannot not act, even if in futility. Because taking action in itself is an impact, even without visible effects.
These were the thoughts in my head when, this week, someone forwarded me a petition form by the Institute of Journalists Malaysia.
The petition, addressed to the prime minister, home minister and the Attorney-General, expresses support for the journalist body’s previous call for the repeal of the Sedition Act, for non-interference in legal journalistic work and for cessation of any and all action against journalist Susan Loone.
To recap, Susan was arrested earlier this month for writing a straight news report based on a telephone interview with a Penang state lawmaker. She was detained and questioned for hours for doing something that is a normal daily activity for any other reporter anywhere.
It brought to mind a brief chat with a lawyer last week about participating in the Malaysian Bar’s Walk for Justice, the effectiveness of which I admittedly also wondered about, though I didn’t voice this.
The lawyer’s reason for walking: objection against the government’s selective use of the Sedition Act and a desire to express displeasure at the selective usage, even if that gets ignored anyway.
It came down to making a statement. Showing intent. Expressing unhappiness. With or without effect, isn’t that important too?
Coming back to IoJ’s petition, I have no pretensions that my one insignificant name matters. But it’s important as a community, as a group to do what little we can individually. In some cases it simply means speaking up, even if our individual voices get drowned out.
The alternative is keeping silent and not saying anything. But then no one would know we disapprove if we keep that feeling hidden behind walls. Worse, our silence may be mistaken for endorsement.
In whatever purpose we pursue, I believe that if we all lend our small voices to the collective, together we can have a better chance of being heard.
Do I share the principles and stance expressed by the IoJ in its statement? (Read it here.) Yes. Do I believe my fellow journalists and I have a right to work unhindered? Yes.
Do I think this petition will reform the nation overnight? No. Can the journalist collective push for the repeal of the Sedition Act on its own? No.
Am I signing anyway? Yes. Pursuing some things are simply a matter of principle.
If you’re unhappy about the Sedition Act too, it’s time to speak up. You could be Malaysia’s tipping point.