Al Jazeera, BBC 'apparently censored' by Astro

Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 03-05-2012

Coverage of anti-government protests in Malaysia from international news networks the BBC and Al Jazeera were apparently doctored prior to re-broadcast by Malaysian satellite TV platform Astro last weekend.

The BBC says it is making urgent enquiries to the Malaysian operator, Astro, to establish the facts as to why sequences were removed from its news report on the Bersih rally for free and fair elections on Saturday (28 April).

Responding to BBC concerns, Rohaizad Mohamad, Astro's senior vice-president for broadcast operations, told local media: "As a licensed broadcaster, Astro is required to comply with the national content regulations.

"When it comes to international content providers, Astro reserves the right to edit its international channels for the purposes of complying with the content regulations."

The report of the rally by Al Jazeera correspondent Harry Fawcett was also "apparently censored" according to the Qatar-based network, which will now ask Astro for "an explanation as to why."

"If Astro are indeed saying that it breached "local content regulations", they would need to outline exactly what these alleged breaches were and how they arrived at their decision, said a spokesman for Al Jazeera English.

"As we understand it, the censoring was not made clear to viewers when it happened. We have had no communication on this incident from Astro either.

"Our news report was a factual account of events that day, and intrusion in our editorial process is unwarranted. Al Jazeera English has not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world."

BBC reporter Emily Buchanan's two-minute news clip of the rally was seemingly shortened by 30 seconds by Astro before broadcast on BBC World, with frames of a policeman allegedly firing at demonstrators removed.

"During the week of World Press Freedom Day, it would be deplorable if access to independent and impartial news was being prevented in any way. We would strongly condemn any blocking of the trusted news that we broadcast around the world including via distribution partners," said a BBC spokesman.

Meanwhile Suhakam, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, has today condemned what has been described as disproportionate and unwarranted force by police during the Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpar on 28 April.

"Suhakam is deeply disappointed and concerned over...allegations of the heavy handed and arbitrary manner by which the police dispersed members of the public," Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, the organisation's chairman said in a statement.

"The Commission is also appalled by the alleged treatment of the police of members of the media...some were allegedly assaulted while two reporters were reportedly arrested, besides having their equipment damaged or confiscated by the police," he added.

Astro, owned by entrepreneur Ananda Krishnan, is the only satellite channel to be licensed by Malaysia's BN Government.