Abdullah should haul up Khalil Yaakob  and direct that television journalism comply with  the three “absolute ingredients” of integrity, honesty and fairness which he proclaimed for the print media yesterday

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Wednesday): Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi proclaimed the three “absolute ingredients” for the print media in the era of Information and Communications Technology (ICT)  - namely integrity, honesty and fairness.

Speaking at the opening of the RM270 million The Star Media Hub printing plant  in Shah Alam, Abdullah described the three “absolute ingredients” as “the bedrock principle that cannot be  compromised to gain material advantage or simply forgotten when it becomes convenient to do so”.

He stressed  that news reports and  analyses must be done in mature and accountable  manner, and important issues should not be trivialised.  Nor should those which are unsubstantiated be  sensationalised. Events should be covered well and  accurately. Messages put forth should be placed in their  proper context and the essence of what is said should  be captured carefully.

I fully agree with Abdullah with regard to the “three absolute ingredients” of integrity, honesty and fairness.to constitute the bedrock principle of journalism - not only for print but also electronic media.

However,  the effect of Abdullah’s speech as  an inspiring benchmark to motivate Malaysian journalists to attain  world renown and respect in the world of journalism was completely spoiled by the three-week-long flouting of these very principles by television journalism in the nightly broadcast of the 90-second Barisan Nasional political propaganda camouflaged as prime-time news - causing the Deputy Prime Minister’s call to fall like a damp squib of meaningless platititudes.
Abdullah should haul up the Information Minister, Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob  and issue a clear directive  that television journalism comply with  the three “absolute ingredients” of integrity, honesty and fairness which he proclaimed for the print media yesterday.

For the past three weeks, there had been strong  protests at the blatant and brazen abuse of government resources and facilities, double standards and sheer dishonesty in the camouflaging of political propaganda footage as prime-time news over television.

Salbiah Ahmad, writing in Malaysiakini yesterday, remarked  that “it doesn’t take a one-eyed mullah to discern the intent” of the 90-second ‘Taliban’  clip over national television. She  said:

“When a government uses a public broadcast system to disparage the opposition, without providing the opposition with equal media access and opportunity, the argument could run that there is deliberate distortion to the communicative and deliberative processes needed for informed consent. The government’s broadcast is then not speech that deserves protection from challenge. The public’s right to information is denied.

“Governments in democratic systems must make every effort to avoid providing ‘information and news items’ with party political bias. There must be autonomy of public broadcast systems and agencies responsible for the administration of national resources allocated for that purpose.

“Ministers in charge are required to respect this autonomy and by convention (ministerial responsibility) must be held accountable to the public for breaches thereof. Our parliament has however, neither been enthusiastic in espousing parliamentary democracy nor vigilant in enforcing public accountability of errant ministers… "

Regrettably, in the past three weeks  Khalil Yaakob had been totally impervious to good sense and public opinion that the propaganda footage should be clearly identified as Barisan Nasional political commercial, as it is clearly designed  for the Indera Kayangan by-election to paint the Barisan Alternative as representing Taliban Malaysia, with PAS as the chief proponent and Parti Keadilan Nasional as abettor; ensure  that Barisan Nasional pay the prime-time television commercial rates and  allow the Opposition to also  buy air time on local television channels.

I found last night that instead of acceding to public opinion of what is right and wrong, and  stop broadcasting the propaganda footage as prime-time news, the Information Ministry had in fact aggravated and compounded the gross abuse of power misuse of  government resources with new  embellishments to the 90-second propaganda with additional clips, as a photograph of  the PAS Deputy President Datuk Hadi Awang, a shot of the grieving widow S. Maliga whose husband detective Sgt. R. Sagadevan was brutally murdered by members of the  Al-Maunah, US Vice President Al Gore speaking at the APEC Summit in Kuala Lumpur in November 1998 expressing support for reformasi and more gory clips of terrorism, violence and mayhem.

The biggest violator of the three “absolute ingredients” of journalism proclaimed by Abdullah yesterday  is none other than  the Information Ministry and television journalism, to the extent that the CNN film of the Taliban execution of an Afghan woman in burqa at  the Kabul football field could be doctored to three close-range rifle shots in the head to dramatise the killing!

Abdullah should protect his own credibility and haul up Khalil Yaakob to ensure  that the Information Ministry and the television stations set a good example and comply with these three “absolute ingredients” of journalism, viz. integrity, honesty and fairness  - with the withdrawal of the 90-second propaganda footage as prime-time news as the first step.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman