BBC, Al-Jazeera decry alleged Malaysia censorship

KUALA LUMPUR - Broadcasters BBC and Al-Jazeera have asked Malaysia’s satellite provider to clarify reports it censored their coverage of a mass rally for electoral reform.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital Kuala Lumpur Saturday but the rally turned violent when protesters breached a barricade around a central square and were met with tear gas and water cannon.

Whistleblowing website Sarawak Report said Malaysia’s Astro, which transmits Al-Jazeera and the BBC to subscribers with a delay of several minutes, cut scenes in rally reports.

Al-Jazeera English said in a statement received Thursday that it would seek an explanation from Astro on why the report was “apparently censored” without making it clear to viewers.

“Our news report was a factual account of events that day, and intrusion in our editorial process is unwarranted. We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world,” it said.

Britain’s BBC said it too was carrying out “urgent enquiries” after being made aware that sequences from its report for the BBC World News channel may have been removed.

“It would be deplorable if access to independent and impartial news was being prevented in any way,” it said in a statement.

Astro did not return calls for comment, but Sarawak Report quoted a company official as saying the BBC report was censored in line with “content guidelines”.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was quoted by The Star daily Thursday as saying the government had approved the setting up of an independent panel to probe allegations of police assaults on journalists covering the rally.

Police say 25,000 attended the demonstration to demand changes to the electoral system, which activists claim is marred by fraud. Rally organisers Bersih 2.0 said 250,000 protested.

Police arrested 513 people including one protester who was charged Thursday over his involvement in breaching the barricade around Independence Square.

Since the protest, videos have emerged of police beating demonstrators and one officer pointing a gun at them.

Analysts say the fallout may lead to Prime Minister Najib Razak refraining from calling elections next month, as was widely speculated. Polls must be held by April next year.

The elections are expected to be a tight battle between Najib’s coalition, which has ruled the country since independence in 1957, and an opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim, which made unprecedented inroads in the last polls in 2008.

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