Media watchdog: Close door hearing of Najib’s judicial review bid linked to house arrest sets bad precedent

THE Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is deeply concerned with the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision to allow former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s house arrest proceedings to be heard in chambers, thus barring the media from covering his judicial review.

While it respects the powers of the judiciary and judicial processes, CIJ said this cannot be seen to undermine democratic principles.

“Najib’s bid to seek house arrest for the remainder of his jail sentence is a matter of utmost public interest and the basic tenets of democracy will require the judicial process to be transparent and not be shrouded in a cloud of secrecy,” Wathshlah G. Naidu who is the executive director of the media watchdog pointed out.

Wathshlah G. Naidu

“The public’s right to information in an open, transparent, timely and meaningful manner must be protected and upheld at all times.”

Moreover, barring the media and flow of unbiased information on this case will also effectively prevents the public from monitoring the outcome of a corruption case that rocked the nation and to hold all those accountable to the rule of law and for justice to prevail, according to CIJ.

“The interests of political actors cannot supersede public interest,” stressed Wathshlah.

“The role of the media as the fourth pillar of democracy is key to keeping the public informed. Barring the media from covering matters that involve political expediency further undermines the trust in the judiciary and ultimately the trust in justice and democracy.”

She added: “Political expediency should not play any part in deterring the media as it actively prevents unbiased information from being reported and reduces the credibility of the media as they cannot play an active role in reporting on public interest matters.

“This further sets a precedent that the media cannot cover issues that involve political expediency and creates a system of opacity that leads to a trust deficit.”

As such, CIJ urged the judiciary to re-consider its decision by keeping the hearing public.

“All media must have full and meaningful access and keep the public informed accordingly,” asserted Wathshlah. “All semblance of antara dua darjat (inequality and double standards) must be removed and the principle of equality before the law must be upheld.” – April 18, 2024

Main image credit: Bloomberg

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