Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Malaysia: Journalists union condemns death threats against video project participant

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) views with great concern the death threats against Azwan Ismail, a participant in the video project "It Gets Better in Malaysia". According to the project's coordinators from Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual sexuality rights festival held in Kuala Lumpur, the videos were made "in response to accounts of suicides and attempted suicides by LGBT teenagers and adults." They were intended to give hope to those who may be overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness, fear or hopelessness, telling them that "it gets better".

CIJ supports the video participants' right to express themselves and to make their opinions and feelings known. CIJ also supports the right of those who disagree with the participants to express their contrary views. However, in expressing those views, it is vital that no threat of or actual violence is perpetuated against those whom they disagree with. Due to the threats of violence, Seksualiti Merdeka made the difficult decision of removing Azwan's video from their account 14 days after it was uploaded on 15 December 2010, out of concern for Azwan's safety.

CIJ also views with concern the way the issue has been portrayed in some of the Malaysian print media. While we recognise the newspapers' prerogative to report quotes calling for action to be taken against gay Muslims, we are critical of the lack of balance in the news reporting on this issue. There appears to have been little or no attempt to obtain a response from Azwan or Seksualiti Merdeka to the criticism that has arisen, nor have other human rights and civil society groups been asked for their informed opinions. With the exception of "The Sun", it appears that most newspapers did not contact Azwan or Seksualiti Merdeka directly for their response. Several relied on international news agencies such as the Associated Press (AP). While it is common to rely on such international agencies, it is puzzling why newspapers chose to rely on an AP quote for a local who is based in Malaysia without contacting him themselves.

CIJ calls for all threats of violence to cease. We also call for newspapers to write news reports in a fair and balanced manner. The video project was intended to give hope, especially to young teenagers who are at risk of committing suicide. It is important that news reports are not skewed to put them at even greater risk.