Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why A Freedom of Information Act ?

        Why A Freedom of Information Act?

        Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) and Sembang-sembang Forum cordially invite the public to attend a public forum on “Why a Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act?” (in English) on

    Date : 15th May 2010, (Saturday) at 8.30pm,
   Venue: Caring Society Complex, Penang.

    Last year in conjunction of World Press Freedom Day, the Selangor State Government launched Selangor Kini and Selangor TV to keep people updated on the progress of Selangor State Government. The Selangor State Government had also presented the draft of Rights To Information Bill for public consultation. The bill aims to institutionalise and facilitates the public's access to information from the State Government.

    This year in conjunction of World Press Freedom Day, Penang State Government has launched the Speakers’ Square in Penang. The Speakers' Square concretises the citizens' rights to the freedom of speech, to assembly and and to form associations as guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

    What are the relations between the rights to information and the freedom of speech?  How do this relate to the freedom of information act? Is such an Act necessary? We  hope you can get your answers from the panelists of speakers. You are welcome to share your view as well.
    The panelists are:

   - Ms. Latheefa Koya, Lawyer, Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MBPJ) Local Councillor, 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 Councillor  (NGOs' quota)

    - Mr. George Aeria, President of Tanjung Bunga Residents' Association (TBRA)
    Free admission. Kindly to contact Mr. Ong Jing Cheng for further information at 012-7583779 or

    Ong Jing Cheng
    Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
    Penang Branch Coordinator,
    63B-01-07, University Heights,
    Jalan Sungai Dua,
    11700 Penang.
    Tel / Fax: +6 04-6582285
    Mobile phone: +6 012 7583 779

   More Information available at the
   Sembang-sembang Forum

     Some Information We Share:

  •          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”.

  •          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.

  •         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.


  •          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.
  •          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.

  •          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 :

Demand from the Centre for Independent Journalism and Writers Alliance for Media Independence :

You can support by signing a petition :



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