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Date: 24 Nov 1999
Biased press puts fair Malaysian poll in doubt, says journalist group
KUAL LUMPUR, Nov 25 (AFP) - The control which Malaysia's ruling coalition wields over "virtually the entire mainstream press" raises doubts of free and fair elections on November 29, an international journalists' group said Thursday.
"The government's overwhelming ability to intimidate the mass media, dictate coverage and enforce a self-consorship regime on most newsrooms raises doubts that Malaysia can enjoy free and fair elections," the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
The New York-based group said the dominant party, the United Malays National Organisation, and its allies in the ruling coalition "directly own or control the major newspapers, radio and television stations in the country, making it virtually impossible for alternative voices to gain widespread access to the public."
The committee, in a statement, said the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act allowed the government to shut down so-called subversive publications and required publishers to renew printing licences every year.
It said independent newspaper publishers had found it almost impossible to secure licences under the act.
The committee said state-owned television denied access to the opposition and the two private TV stations "both have close ties to the government."
For those journalists who took the risk of defying pressure, it said, the case of Canadian journalist Murrary Hiebert was a cautionary tale. Hiebert earlier this year served a month in jail for contempt of court over an article he wrote that was critical of the Malaysian judiciary.