After banning Makkal Osai, the Minister of Home Affairs Syed Hamid Syed Albar now talk about reviewing the Printing Presses and Publication Act.
This is a good development, although we must not take it as a promise that will certainly get fulfilled. Concerned citizens should understand how the law suppresses our media freedom so that we may monitor the development well.
The law has three tools:
* Printing press license which
o is required for the use of “Letterpress, Lithography, Gravue, Intaglio or any other process of printing capable of printing at a rate of 1,000 impressions per hour or more” (Section 3 (1) and Schedule 1);
o is granted and may be revoked or suspended for any period considered desirable in the Minister’s “absolute discretion” (Section 3 (3))
o is “valid for a period of twelve months from the date of granting or issue” with the application for which subjects to the Minister’s “absolute discretion”. (Section 12).
* Publication permit which
o is required for “any one to print, import, publish, sell, circulate or distribute any newspaper printed in Malaysia or Singapore” (Section 5);
o may be revoked or suspended for any period the Minister considers desirable (Section 6 (b)); and
o is only “valid for a period of twelve months from the date of granting or issue” with the application for which subjects to the Minister’s “absolute discretion”. (Section 12).
* Control of Undesirable Publications,
o Such control covers any publication the Minister is satisfied that to be “prejudicial to or like to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security, the relationship with any foreign country or government, or which is likely to alarm public opinion, or which is or is likely to be contrary to any law or is otherwise prejudicial to is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest”; (Section 7(1))
o Minister may “in his absolute discretion by order of Gazette prohibit, either absolutely or subject to such conditions, as may be prescribed, the printing, importation, production, reproduction, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, distribution or possession of that publication and future publications of the publisher concerned.”
Of the three, the requirement for printing press license and publication permit poses the greatest threat to media freedom via the creation of a barrier of entry to and the possible imposition of forced exit from the print periodical industry.
In contrast, the control of undesirable publications in practice allows only post-publication ban or embargo for foreign publication.