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Dark clouds gathering on media front


Speech (7) in Parliament  on Royal Address Motion
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Thursday) : 

5. Media Freedom and Freedom of Information

A subtle, distinctive  but chilling atmosphere has descended on the media, caused by a combination of factors, including the punitive  and discriminatory actions taken against the China Press  for its reportage of the Nudesquat Scandal in wrongly  identifying the woman  victim as a Chinese national, when other newspapers like the Straits Times and Utusan Malaysia had done the same but were not penalized. Why the double standards?

This was followed by the storm in the local media arising from  the dozen deplorable, insensitive and offensive Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohamad which had tragically led to senseless violence and loss of lives in some parts of the world.

In a plural society like Malaysia, there is no gainsaying that the media must be  sensitive to the different  religions and communities in the country.  But whether the punitive actions meted  out to Sarawak Tribune and  Guang Ming Daily were appropriate should be open to public debate. Again there is the  question of double standards as RTM which had telecast the Danish caricatures had been able to get off scot-free, without even an apology.   If RTM had not even apologised for telecasting the Danish cartoons, why weren’t t apologies by Sarawak Tribune and Guan Ming Daily adequate?

There was then the New Straits Times controversy over its publication of a  Non-Sequitur cartoon by Wiley Miller which invited negative reactions in the country, especially among Muslims, for mocking Prophet Muhammad.

I had said that punitive actions should not have been taken against New Straits Times, just as I disagreed with the actions taken by the Ministry of Internal Security against Sarawak Tribune and Guang Ming Daily.


Those ranged on the opposite sides of the controversy  as to whether New Straits Times should be punished for the Non-Sequitur cartoon are agreed that Wiley’s sketch does not belong to the category of the Danish cartoons.  In fact, many Malaysians do not regard the Non-Sequitur cartoon as targetting Prophet Muhammad.


Recently, the media were warned to black out public anger and protests over  the oil price hikes.   Are we sliding down an ever-more chilly and slippery slope of press censorship when we should be promoting greater media freedom?


I  concede that there had been greater openness in the Malaysian media in the past 29 months, but what is worrying is that before there is any systemic or institutional change to pave the way for greater media freedom which is durable and sustainable, the few shutters of press freedom  which had opened up are beginning to come  down.


I am told that as compared to the Mahathir era,  some  printed media, in particular the Chinese press, are getting more frequent telephone calls  from the Prime Minister’s Department and the Ministry of Internal Security interfering with their daily editorial independence and freedom.


Dark clouds are gathering on the Malaysia media front, especially with the new Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin who days before his surprise appointment flayed the  print media in the country, saying that they  failed to understand the true meaning of press freedom and was fond of aping the western press in their pursuit of press freedom. He unabashedly defended the Printing  Presses and Publications Act, 1984 and the Sedition Act in order “to prevent abuse of press freedom”.

The Prime Minister made a personal  promise seven years ago to study the petition by about a thousand Malaysian journalists for more press freedom starting with the repeal of  the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

On the 1999 World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 1999, he told a delegation of 15 reporters when presented with the petition that he would read the petition and let the journalists know.

I call on  the Prime Minister to come to Parliament to announce the outcome of his seven-year study on press freedom. He should  commit his government to more press freedom in Malaysia, not to achieve “total”, “unlimited” or “absolute” press freedom, but for the emergence of a free, independent and responsible press without which Malaysia can never achieve its destiny as a great, corruption-free, prosperous and progressive nation –  by starting with the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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