Al Jazeera refutes claims documentary on migrants is biased and inaccurate, fears for safety of staff and interviewees in Malaysia

Jerry Choong
·3-min read
Al Jazeera today dismissed accusations that the documentary is inaccurate, misleading and unfair, and said it stands by the quality and impartiality of its journalism. — Reuters pic
Al Jazeera today dismissed accusations that the documentary is inaccurate, misleading and unfair, and said it stands by the quality and impartiality of its journalism. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Qatari-owned news agency Al Jazeera has categorically rejected the accusations levelled by Malaysian officials at its recent 101 East documentary on the Covid-19 pandemic and migrant workers in the country.

It dismissed accusations that the documentary is inaccurate, misleading and unfair, and said it stands by the quality and impartiality of its journalism.

“Malaysian police announced that they were investigating Al Jazeera for sedition, defamation and violation of the country’s Communications and Multimedia Act,” said the agency in a statement tonight.

Similarly, Al Jazeera said its personnel in Malaysia have been targeted by sustained online abuse, including death threats and the disclosure of their personal details over social media.

“We call on the Malaysian authorities to respect media freedom and desist from treating its journalists as criminals.

“Al Jazeera has serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of its 101 East investigative documentary ‘Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown’ on July 3. The documentary looked at why Malaysia’s illegal foreign migrant workers are at risk in the time of Covid-19,” it said.

Al Jazeera said the 101 East documentary strand, a weekly programme from across the Asia Pacific region, has a reputation for producing in-depth journalism of the highest quality.

“Many of its programmes have been internationally recognised with prestigious awards from across the globe.

“The episode ‘Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown’ contains the views and experiences of a wide range of people from different backgrounds, including a well-respected Malaysian doctor and Malaysian relief worker on the frontlines,” the statement read.

Adding that the efforts of Malaysia’s Covid-19 response has successfully contained the spread of the virus, Al Jazeera said the programme also clearly shows the humanitarian efforts made by Malaysian organisations which provide direct assistance to migrants in need.

“The episode does not contain the personal opinions of any Al Jazeera staff. We repeatedly sought to obtain the government’s view, by requesting interviews with a number of senior government ministers and officials. Repeated requests for interviews were not accepted.

“Al Jazeera also sought to attend the defence minister’s press conferences, but were told only state media could attend. Despite the government’s refusal to be interviewed, Al Jazeera still produced a balanced film by including comments made by the defence minister at two press conferences,” it said.

Arguing that the documentary captured events, including immigration raids, as they unfolded in real-time in Malaysia, Al Jazeera added the events were also widely reported by many other media outlets, both domestically and internationally.

“We are deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation. Charging journalists for doing their jobs is not the action of a democracy that values free speech. Journalism is not a crime.

“Al Jazeera also has grave concerns about the sustained online harassment its staff are facing. Reporters have been targeted with abusive messages and death threats. The personal details of current and former staff have been published online, in a serious breach of privacy which could potentially expose them to great risk both now and in the future,” it said.

In the same statement, Al Jazeera expressed concern for the safety of those interviewed in the documentary who have also been subjected to abusive online harassment and hate speech.

“People should feel free to speak with the media and express their views without the fear that they could be targeted. In a world in which the media face increasing threats, Al Jazeera calls for media freedom and the right to report freely without intimidation.

“We call upon the Malaysian authorities to desist from initiating any criminal investigation into its professional, impartial journalism. Al Jazeera English is prepared to host a representative of the Malaysian government to respond to the matters raised in the documentary,” said the agency.

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