CIJ condemns seizure of reporter’s notebook

Media Statement
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia
4 August 2011

Police taking journalist’s notebook a serious breach of media freedom

Centre for Independent Journalism views the police order to “Malaysiakini” journalist Joseph Sipalan to surrender his notebook to them on 3 August 2011 as a serious breach of media freedom.

While Section 51(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code allows for any court or police officer to obtain documents that are considered necessary for the purpose of its investigation, we fail to see how the notepad itself is relevant to police investigation over a politician’s alleged ‘false claims’ when the journalist himself has already been questioned on 2 August as a ‘witness’ for having attended the press conference by the politician.

Notepads or any other recording devices used by journalists in the course of their work not only contain information about the story in question, but also other stories they have published or are working on. These recording devices may also contain details of sources, some of whom may have spoken in confidence.

Protection of sources is sacrosanct to journalists as it has a direct bearing on their ability to work. As such, journalists’ recording devices should never be privy to anyone else but for the most compelling of reasons related to an immediate and demonstrable direct threat to public safety.

This latest police action may lead to a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to do their work. If the police do not refrain from such actions in future, journalists may think twice about covering certain sources or issues that they think may lead to them being called in as potential police witnesses and have their tools of the trade surrendered to the police.

Journalists should be able to report according to their professional dictates without having to worry about the possibility of their laptops, cameras, notepads and such recording devices being subject to police seizure.

In addition, this investigation shows continued harassment by the authorities of all those involved in the Bersih 2.0 rally on 9 July 2011 which called for clean and fair elections. This is yet another act that infringes upon citizens’ freedom of expression and even goes further by threatening the freedom of the press.

We therefore call upon the authorities to immediately cease all prosecutions of those involved with the Bersih 2.0 rally which was a legitimate expression by the people of their views and an exercise of their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.