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Reporters Physically Manhandled And Threatened, Even Blamed For Wearing Overly Sexy Attire And The Internal Security Ministry’s Indefinite Suspension Of Weekend Mail For Prurient Articles And Photos Relating To Sex On Its 4-5 November Issue Would Undermine Any Progress Made In Press Freedom In Malaysia

Media Statement

by Lim Guan Eng

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): DAP express dismay at government leaders disrespect and contempt for the media profession and newsmen as shown by recent incidents where:-
  1. Two newsmen, a reporter from Sin Chew Jit Poh and a photographer from Guang Ming Daily, were manhandled by Municipal Council (MPK) nominee Datuk Mazlynoor Abdul Latiff did and in the ensuing scuffle, a RM8,000 digital camera was damaged. Mazlynoor was one of the three MPK nominees who had built houses without planning approval.The other two are Port Klang assemblyman Datuk Zakaria Mat Deros and Kapar Umno Youth chief Faizal Abdullah. Both have since declined the appointment.
  2. Penang Municipal Council president Datuk Abu Bakar Hassan, without investigating the media’s complaint of the misuse of a close-circuit television (CCTV) camera at Penang City Hall zooming onto the thighs of a female journalist covering a full council meeting, blamed the female journalist for wearing sexy attire. He also said a dress code would be drawn up for the media even though New Straits Times journalist Melissa Darlyne Chow (23) had lodged a police report against the CCTV operator in the control room had outraged her modesty by focussing the camera on her thighs. Chow had said she was wearing decent office attire and her skirt was knee length when she attended the council meeting on Friday.
  3. 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.

In the first incident, Datuk Mazlynoor should show leadership by example in abiding by the law and rejecting violence. Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo should have immediately sacked him for condoning such violence. If reporters can be manhandled and their equipment destroyed by councilors supposed to uphold the law, this would badly affect the image of press freedom in Malaysia where newsmen are not safe to perform their duties.

Similarly the outrageously sexist and extremist remarks by Datuk Abu Bakar Hasan shows that he is unfit for any public office. Instead of blaming the perpetrator of the offence, he is blaming the victim. This is contrary to any laws or concept of natural justice and religious values.


Koh Tsu Koon Has No Choice But To Sack Abu Bakar Hasan To Save Penang’s Image

DAP considers a public disgrace and a complete waste of public funds to pay the salary of a man with such a feudalistic thinking, incompatible with his public office operating in a multi-racial society. DAP does not want taxpayers money to be used to employ one who has brought shame not only to Penang but also the country. If knee length skirts are considered too sexy what about those wearing bikinis on our beaches and swimming pools. How is Malaysia and Penang going to attract tourists then?

There is no choice for Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu but to sack Datuk Abu Bakar to prove that the State Government disassociates itself completely and do not condone such remarks. Any failure to do so would prove that either Koh is without power or that he is not sincere in upholding women’s dignity and the right of women journalists to work unmolested. If female journalists also can not be allowed to work without fear of their modesty being outraged, this will also reflect very badly on our press freedom index next year.

Finally, DAP agrees with NSTP(M) CEO Datuk Syed Faisal Albar that the articles in the Weekend Mail 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.

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.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi 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 such as Printing Presses & Publications Act(PPPA), Sedition Act(SA), Internal Security Act(ISA) and Official Secrets Act(OSA) and promote those that allows greater freedom of information as well as act against those human instruments such as Mazlynoor and Abu Bakar Hasan that prevent journalists from carrying out their duties.


* Lim Guan Eng,  Secretary-General of DAP

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