Protestors break pencils in support of media freedom

KUALA LUMPUR: Over 100 people — mainly media personnel, activists and other supporters — today gathered in the city and marched through heavy rain in the ‘Red Pencil Protest’ calling for greater media freedom.

They were mainly dressed in red and held up placards and shouted these slogans: ‘free the media!’; ‘free the heat!’

They were mainly dressed in red and held up placards and shouted: "free the media!"

Red is the colour chosen by the Angry Media Movement (GERAMM), the organisers of this protest.

The group was formed by journalists after the suspension of news weekly The Heat last month and is spear heading a campaign to pressure the Home Ministry to reverse the ban.
During the protest, protesters at one point each held up a red pencil and broke them in half. This, they said, was symbolic of the government’s alleged oppression of the media.

They also underlined eight specific demands for the government, political parties and the media itself, including the demand to:
  • Withdraw the suspension of The Heat news weekly to allow it to operate
  • Re-investigate incidences of police brutality against media practitioners during the Bersih 3.0 rally in 2012
  • Do away with the requirement of a publication permit mandatory under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984.
  • Allow all media practitioners to cover government events and access to public buildings for news gathering purposes.
  • They also called for the government and political parties to give full access to government and public events, and to apologise over alleged breaches of media freedom.
The GERAMM protest also called on media personnel to “practice good journalistic ethics and give balanced and fair reporting to all” as well as to “uphold the spirit of press freedom and human rights.”

They were mainly dressed in red and held up placards and shouted: "free the media!"

Aside from several political leaders and activist who turned up, there were a few individuals who turned up on their own accord.

One, a 30-year-old software engineer, said: “I came because the rakyat would always criticise certain media of being biased and all. But when something happened to a media company, we sit back. I think that’s not right so I had to come to support.”

The rally, which started off at 2pm at the Bar Council office in Jalan Tun Perak, proceeded to the Masjid Jamek LRT station where several journalists, including reporter Radzi Razak, were allegedly roughed up by police during the Bersih 3.0 rally in 2012.

In his speech, organiser and Malaysiakini editor Fathi Aris Omar said that the rights of the media should be returned, and the act of breaking the red pencils was symbolic of the sufferings of the media that has been oppressed by outside forces.

Former Bersih leader S Ambiga, said: “We gather not just to support The Heat but for media freedom and also for the voice of the people.”

The protest was held by GERAMM following the suspension of The Heat by the Home Ministry in Dec 19.

Though the suspension was widely believed to be over a frontpage article on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the ministry has denied this claim.

The Home Ministry has insisted that The Heat had violated several clauses in its printing permit, including the changing of ownership and the alleged failure to explain its actions.

However, the government had also reportedly told The Heat that it was in the midst of considering lifting the suspension.