On Friday, 24 July, the Home Ministry issued a suspension order for the publishing permit of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months. The suspension will come in effect 27 July.
The Home Ministry, in a letter to The Edge Media Group, said the publishing permits for The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily, have been suspended for three months, effective July 27.
The letter stated that the reporting on 1MDB by the two publications were "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest".
The letter also said that the failure to stop publication for three months would result in the withdrawal of The Edge's publishing permits.
The suspension on The Edge comes hot on the heels of the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission blocking access to whistleblower website Sarawak Report on 19 July
The move to block Sarawak Report came two weeks after the website first reported on how investigators probing the debt-laden 1MDB discovered that some US$700m allegedly made its way into Najib’s personal bank accounts.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the country’s internet regulator, confirmed late on Sunday it had blocked Sarawak Report for reporting on what it called “unverified content”.
“Such content could create unrest and threatens national stability, public order and economic stability,” the commission said in a statement. It said the website would be blocked until an official investigation into 1MDB is completed. No time frame has been given for the investigation.
Sarawak Report continues to be accessible from outside Malaysia, however.
The Edge will challenge the suspension of its two publications in court. In a statement issued by The Edge Media Group, CEO and Publisher Ho Kay Tat said he was disappointed with the suspension.
"We don't see how exposing the scam to cheat the people of Malaysia of billions of ringgit can be construed as being detrimental to public and national interest.
"This is nothing more than a move to shut us down in order to shut us up," he added. Ho said The Edge would go to court and try and get the suspension lifted.
Reacting to the suspension, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Malaysia, in a statement by its President Chin Sung Chew, said that the Home Ministry must state clearly how The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily are deemed to be a threat to national security
"NUJ Malaysia is appalled by the decision of the Home Ministry to suspend the publishing permits of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months. As 1MDB is a government-linked company (GLC), the rakyat has a right to know the ongoings within 1MDB."
"Both The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily had also published rebuttals from both government spokepersons and 1MDB. As such, the publications have offered a platform for civil debate and discourse," said Chin.
NUJ reiterated that the media has a public duty to inform, and should not be discouraged from playing an active role in highlighting issues of public and national interest, adding that the suspension could be perceived as a clampdown on media freedom
“Malaysia has always tried to put in place good governance and transparency, and this action only serves to reverse the good work done in the past. The country's image to the international community will also be affected by this action."
“NUJ calls for this suspension to be lifted immediately. The media is only playing its role as the fourth estate, and any disagreements over the 1MDB reports should be debated in a civil manner,” it said.
The suspension has also been condemned by CIMB Group chairman Nazir Abdul Razak, the brother of PM Najib Abdul Razak
Slamming the government's decision, he said instead of suspension, legal action could have been a better way to deal with the issue.
"I condemn the suspension and my thoughts go out to all the affected staff. Recent 1MDB coverage seems outstanding but if there were flaws, then correct them or take legal recourse," he said in an Instagram posting today.
Nazir said The Edge was a pillar in the business community. He said the media played a big role in keeping businesses informed, honest, and competitive.
Joining Nazir in the condemnation, AirAsia chief executive Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said freedom of the press is the pillar of democracy
Former International Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz, too, came hard on the government, saying that banning media publications for reporting what certain quarters considers "unsavoury" will not solve anything. Rafidah also said those responsible need to start giving the public the facts and to "say things as they are" on 1MDB and other issues.
“We can ban some publications. It does not solve anything, really. If at all, it’s making many more people upset. Worse still, there is now another grouse against the Government - for nothing,” she wrote on her Facebook page this Saturday.
She expressed frustration that knee-jerk reactions were once again the order of the day, and called for a more clear-minded and rational approach to public concerns. Rafidah said that while freedom of speech must have parameters defined by factors such as decency and respect for the religious beliefs of others, it is important that tme media is not unduly penalized for reporting what some deem to be unsavoury.
The former Wanita Umno chief questioned if the Government would “shut down the Internet” next as people were free to say anything they wanted to in this era of social media. “Social media communication will still continue..and now there’s a new topic to discuss, and condemn,” she added, referring to the The Edge’s suspension.
Malaysiakini, meanwhile, in an opinion piece has termed the suspension "unwarranted and unjustifiable." It added that "it's a case of punishing the messengers rather than the criminals" and called on the government to immediately lift the suspension of The Edge and the blocking of Sarawak Report. It said the government must allow the media to do its job to hold the power to account.
The media as the Fourth Estate serves as an indispensable pillar in a democratic nation. It has the sacrosanct task of monitoring those in the seat of power to ensure that the people and their rights are safeguarded. To use a draconian legislation to silence or punish the media is an act that is detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
At the heart of the attack against The Edge and Sarawak Report is the matter of whether their reporting on the 1MDB scandal is true or false.
If based on the evidence they have, public funds have indeed been siphoned away to serve private and political interests. If indeed these media companies had fabricated evidence in a bid to topple an elected government, they can be charged with publishing false news. The matter would then go to court, where surely 1MDB, banks and the parties involved can produce conclusive evidence of fabrication.
The Edge has handed over all the documents it obtained from former PetroSaudi International executive Xavier Andre Justo to the authorities. Till today, neither 1MDB nor the government is able to back up their claims of tampering, nor have the authorities charged The Edge with any other offence.
For a leadership that has nothing to hide, silencing the media does nothing for its credibility. Instead, this suspension sends an indelible message to Malaysians that the government has indeed something big to hide.
The Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia (CIJ) warned the government for its heavy-handed actions against its critics in order to silence them, saying that such actions will only backfire
Its directors Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee said that The Edge had acted in public and national interests by exposing wrongdoings in state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
"Contrary to what the Home Ministry is alleging, it appears that The Edge has acted in public and national interests by bringing these allegations to light," they said in a statement today. For the government to muzzle The Edge under these circumstances only leads to more questions on the management of 1Malaysia Development Malaysia (1MDB).
"To act heavy-handedly against critics with vague justifications will have the opposite effect." Echoing PKR who had earlier condemned the suspension, CIJ said that the government's move was a breach of freedom of expression and media freedom.
"To justify such a serious and extreme measure, it is wholly insufficient for the Home Ministry to merely make sweeping, general claims about prejudice to public order, security or alarm," it said. "It must specify exactly how The Edge's reporting on 1MDB would jeopardise public order or security."
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia also condemned the decision, noting that The Edge's reports had not been proven false
"To begin with, the very idea that the government can suspend or revoke printing licenses at a moment's notice needs to be done away with if the government is truly committed to press freedom. But to suspend a newspaper over reports that no one has been able to prove were false, is plainly contrary to the notion of natural justice."
"By all means, investigate The Edge, its owners and staff. Police have already questioned chief executive Ho Kay Tat and are reportedly due to interview owner Tong Kooi Ong. Authorities should ask themselves if a suspension aids investigations at all, and explain to the public on what basis they have decided that The Edge has endangered national security."
In condemning the suspension, PKR's Youth Chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said the move was "highly disturbing" and was a "grave breach" of press freedom. He added that the government owes Malaysians an explanation as to how the paper's reportage of the 1MDB issue is detrimental to public order and security as it claimed.
"The government owes Malaysians an explanation just why exactly The Edge’s reporting on the issue is '… prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest'."
Nik Nazmi, who is also Seri Setia assemblyman, said that the government should have fully and comprehensively answered all allegations made against it regarding 1MDB instead of resorting to the draconian method of suspending the publications.
"As has been stated repeatedly, its inability to do so, rather than media reporting, is what has caused uncertainty and unhappiness on the part of the public," he said. "The government should immediately reverse the suspension and give the people the answers they deserve regarding the various issues that have dominated headlines as of late."
Meanwhile, explaining the reason behind why the permits of The Edge were suspended, the Deputy Home Minister Was Junaidi Tuanku said that the reports of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily were found to contain "certain motives"
He said the government did not restrict any publications to disseminate information to the public. But he said the government would intervene if the reports were seen to exhibit "certain motives".
“The ministry has the power to suspend temporarily. We have given them a chance to explain, but it was not satisfactory,” he was quoted as saying.
Wan Junaidi was also reported as saying that officials from the ministry had gone through the reports published by The Edge before making the suspension order. He did not elaborate on the "certain motives".
Both The Edge's publications can be accessed via digital platforms
Chief executive officer and publisher, Ho Kay Tat, said readers can go to theedgemarkets.com, theedgeproperty.com, themalaysianinsider.com and edgy.com for news.
Ho said other digital options to deliver the news would be explored. "To our advertisers, we hope you will continue to support us through our digital platforms now that the print will not be available for three months," he said.
The Edge Media Group’s Malaysian operations have a staff count of around 350.
While The Edge will challenge the suspension in court, its CEO and Publisher Ho Kay Tat said they offer no apologies and vowed to continue its coverage on the 1MDB-PetroSaudi expose
“We will not apologise because we haven't done anything wrong. We stand by what we have published. None of the published articles have been challenged. No one has come to say, ‘This article is wrong, that article is wrong’. No one,” Ho said when met by media after the staff meeting at the company headquarters in Petaling Jaya this evening.
Ho insists The Edge will continue its operation across its online platform. A staunch critic of 1MDB, Ho also said its publication will continue to follow and report the development of the debt-laden sovereign fund.
“Of course we will continue to report on 1MDB. As you all know, there will be plenty to report on 1MDB because a lot of things are happening,” he added.
Meanwhile, staffs of The Edge's two publications will continue to get their salaries during the three months suspension from 27 July
Ho said the suspension of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily by the Home Ministry would, however, affect certain staff.
“We may not need a full team to work at certain desks. This could mean some people going on leave to clear outstanding leave. Further details will be released next week after a review with those involved.
"All staff will continue to receive their full pay during the suspension,” Ho said in a note addressed to the staff with The Edge Media Group chairman Datuk Tong Kooi Ong. “We are going through a challenging time and it is important that we stay strong and committed to our beliefs and values as a media company,” he said.