The Malaysian government is facing a widening backlash for banning two publications of The Edge group, raising questions as to whether the Najib administration is gagging the messenger rather than going against key suspects exposed by the media in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
Supporters of the ban lined up behind the government to say that while whistleblowing is admirable, it must be done through the proper channels rather than by allowing the media to pass judgment in a case that is still under investigation.
The Edge Media Group last Friday said the ministry had suspended the publishing permit of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months from tomorrow over its reportage on the state investment fund.
In a statement late last Friday, Home Ministry secretary-general Alwi Ibrahim said the permits were temporarily suspended because the publisher had violated the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
The group's publisher and group chief executive Ho Kay Tat said they would apply tomorrow for a judicial review of the suspension.
The government a few days earlier blocked access to the Sarawak Report website which had also carried critical news on 1MDB.
The Edge found support from former minister Rafidah Aziz, who yesterday questioned whether the Internet should be restricted to stop criticisms against the government.
"Those responsible must begin to give to the public the facts, and communicate coherently and clearly, and to say things as they are, regarding 1MDB or other issues of public concern. We can ban some publications... It does not solve anything," she wrote on her Facebook page.
Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir said a leader should not shoot the messenger but instead find a solution when faced with criticisms, though he didn't specifically mention The Edge's publications.
"We should instead investigate the facts or news, and if it is found to be true, we should say thank you because there are those who still love (the leader). He delivered unpleasant news to save the situation," he said when opening an Umno divisional meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Five media organisations said that they will hold a rally on Aug 8 to show solidarity with the publications. They include the Centre for Independent Journalism, Reporters Sans Frontiers and the Foreign Correspondents Club Malaysia.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar defended the ban on the publications, saying that exposing scandals through the media would only invite misunderstandings, incorrect perceptions and chaos.
He tweeted that whistleblowers "are surely protected" under Malaysian laws, "provided they come in the proper way, legally".
Said the chief of the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club, Tan Sri Shahrir Samad: "If that media company wanted the truth to prevail, they should have... handed over the documents and insisted the authorities investigate the matter."