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The Internal Security Ministry’s Indefinite Suspension Of Weekend Mail For Prurient Articles And Photos Relating To Sex On Its 4-5 November Issue Is Excessive And Would Have A Chilling Effect On Press Freedom In Malaysia.


Media Statement

by Lim Guan Eng

(Petaling JayaThursday): The Internal Security Ministry’s indefinite suspension of the Weekend Mail for prurient articles and photos relating to sex on its 4-5 November issue is excessive and would have a chilling effect on press freedom in Malaysia. DAP agrees with NSTP(M) CEO Datuk Syed Faisal Albar that the articles were offensive and distasteful. NSTP had already unreservedly apologised to its readers as well as suspended its editor.


If no action was taken by the newspaper for trying to boost its circulation through the tried of proven methods of using sensationalism and sex, then the Ministry may be justified in taking action. Or if the Ministry deemed action taken by the paper as inappropriate, it can even demand sterner action against those responsible. However if action was already taken there is hardly justification or necessity to punish the whole paper by indefinitely suspending it for the mistakes of a few who do not represent the newspaper.


Whilst the Internal Security Ministry Secretary-General Tan Sri abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof may see his role as a moral guardian of young people’s morals in citing the articles and photos as contrary to the Eastern values practiced by Malaysians, invoking the suspension powers of Section 6(2) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 is a very drastic step with far-reaching implication and consequences for press freedom.


If a paper can be punished as a whole for the mistakes by the few, this has a chiiling effect on press freedom as who would dare to publish and print news for fear of offending authorities. Such indefinite suspension of the Weekend Mail would undermine and undo the good progress made by Malasyia during the past year in the world press freedom rankings. Malaysia jumped  21 spots from 113th position in 2005 to 92nd this year in the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, ahead of other countries in the region such as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.


Would Self-Censorship Be Refined To Such A Fine Art That The Censors Can Not Do A Better Job.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should reinforce the improved press freedom rankings by dismantling the instruments of repression of free press and speech such as Printing Presses & Publications Act(PPPA), Sedition Act(SA), Internal Security Act(ISA) and Official Secrets Act(OSA and make oppression of human liberties a thing of the past with a new Freedom Of Information Act(FIA.


Abdullah had expressed delight at the improvement to the 92nd ranking out of 168 countries by the RSF, because it was the most effective response to former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s attacks against him for creating a climate of fear pervading the country where criticism against the Prime Minister was strictly forbidden and not published in the press. However DAP fears that such improvements may not be sustained if it is not consolidated by institutional reforms that make press freedom an integral part of our democracy and government administration.


The challenge for Abdullah is to ensure that such improvements are not a one-off ‘flash in the pan” for 2006 before reverting to type next year by regressing to its 113th position.  That is why Abdullah must boldly abolish oppressive laws and promote those that allows greater freedom of information.


In mature and developed democracies, a free press functions as a powerful fourth estate to monitor and provide a mechanism of check and balance against the three powers of Parliament, the Executive and an independent Judiciary. Unfortunately in Malaysia, the concentration of powers in the Executive has not only diluted the powers of Parliament, removed judicial independence but also suppressed press freedom until it remains a mere mouth-piece of the government.


Malaysia should not be satisfied that it has improved to 92nd but should strive to be the best in the Southeast Asian region where the honour is held by Timor Leste at 83rd. Coming in after Malaysia are Indonesia (103), Cambodia (108), Thailand (122), the Philippines (142), Singapore (146), Vietnam (155), Laos (156) and Myanmar (164). Before Abdullah becomes to excited, he should remember that Malaysia is still far behind other Asian countries such as New Zealand (18), South Korea (31) and Australia (35).


The best response to Mahathir’s allegations of a climate of fear is for Abdullah to take steps to show there is nothing for Malaysians to fear even if they criticize him. As American President Roosevelt said, there must be freedom from fear and Abdullah must show Mahathir that the only thing for Mahathir to fear is fear itself.


In a recent interview with CNN, Abdullah denied that there are press restrictions in Malaysia but admits there is self-censorship. How can there not be press restrictions or self-censorship when the PPPA requires an annual renewal of newspapers publishing permit? This has resulted in self-censorship in Malaysia been refined to such a fine art that the censors could not do a better job.


Abolishing oppressive laws above would also prove that Abdullah is made of a different mould from the dictatorial regime of Mahathir that launched mass detentions of opposition leaders and MPs. This would establish Abdullah’s legacy of not only releasing ISA detainees but also liberating Malaysians from oppression in contrast to Mahathir’s mass detentions and imposition of draconian laws. Only then can we expect to see gradual and progressive improvements in our World Press Freedom Index instead of fearing that our rankings will go down next year.


* Lim Guan Eng,  Secretary-General of DAP

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