It was reported that the city council barred media personnel from covering the public hearing by giving a reason that the invitation was not extended to the media but only for residents and other members of the public who lodged formal objections to the draft plan. This reasoning is not acceptable as this is a matter of public interest and, thus, the public at large must be kept informed.
The public hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:15 am at the Wisma MBSA banquet hall, Shah Alam. Among the contentious matters to be discussed was the council’s proposal to convert the Shah Alam Community Forest (Rimba Komuniti Shah Alam) into commercial development and a cemetery.
According to reports, when residents attempted to assist the media by proposing they enter the session as “representatives”, the MBSA officers gave a condition that the session must not be reported and journalists must surrender their recording devices.
Preventing the media from reporting is tantamount to the Council not being transparent in the disclosure of information that is of a matter of public interest. This clearly contravenes the Freedom of Information (State of Selangor) Enactment 2011 which is meant to “enhance disclosure of information for the public interest, to provide to every individual a reasonable right of access to information made by every department of the State Government and to promote transparency and accountability for each department in the State Government”.
It is vital for the MBSA now to provide clear justification on why it is restricting disclosure of information related to a public hearing.
Access to hearing and reporting matters of public interest is fundamental to the role of media to function without unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions as it challenges media freedom and impacts the public’s right to information. It further impacts the larger public’s ability to constructively participate in any debate or discussions related to decision-making processes on the Shah Alam Community Forest. How are we then to hold the MBSA and the related state agencies accountable for their decisions and actions which will ultimately affect the general public?
The city council must do better in upholding the freedom for the media to report on any public hearings as means of ensuring transparency and enhancing participatory democracy and good governance.
8 April 2021 Ms. Wathshlah G. Naidu CIJ Executive Director