Malaysia: Journalist fined for breaching physical distancing rules during state election

Journalist Weng Kian Yong was fined by health department authorities for allegedly failing to adhere to standard operating procedures (SOP) at the Larkin nomination centre in Johor on February 26. The International Federation of Journalists and its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM), express concern over the Malaysian authorities’ penalising of journalists and media workers simply for carrying out their work.

Candidates and members of the press gather outside the Larkin nomination centre in Johor. Credit: Twitter

Weng Kian Yong, a journalist with Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper Sin Chew, was reporting on the upcoming Johor state election when authorities from the health department issued him a RM 1,000 (approx. USD 238) fine for “violating the standard operating procedure.”  

The compound notice stated that the journalist had failed to adhere to the centre’s Covid-19 physical distancing guidelines set out by the department.  

Weng Kia Yong said that he did nothing wrong, and was simply approaching candidates to obtain their personal information, including their names and contact details. 

“Never did I think that it was an offense. I was the only person who was compounded among several other journalists who were doing the same thing,” he said in a statement to Malay Mail.  

Khairulanuar Yahaya, another journalist covering the election from news portal Malaysia Gazette, was also issued with a warning by health department officers, but was not given a fine. 

The NUJM said: “NUJ Malaysia is extremely disappointed over the above incident as we are in view that journalists who were present there, or at any event of news coverage, were just carrying their duty as a professional journalist. We will advise all media personnel especially, our members, who are covering the Johor state election process to adhere to the standard operating procedure. However, at the same time, NUJ urges government authorities to give a fair treatment to the media, as the journalists are helping the government in disseminating vital information to the public.” 

The IFJ said: “The unjustified penalising of journalists under the guise of ‘health orders’ sets a worrying precedent for press freedom in Malaysia. The IFJ calls for the immediate dismissal of the fine issued to Weng Kian Yong and urges Malaysian officials to better safeguard journalists safeguarded who are carrying out their work.”  

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The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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