Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Wednesday, 5th May 2010:
2010 World Press Freedom Day ignored by Najib Government as Malaysia stands on the crossroad with Najib deciding whether to usher a return of the Mahathirish media dark age
The 2010 World Press Freedom Day celebrated worldwide two days ago was completely ignored by the Najib government, without any commitment to restore press freedom in Malaysia, as press freedom in Malaysia is in fact facing the possibility of worst censorship and repression since the retirement of Tun Mahathir as Prime Minister five years ago.
This is the result of no institutional changes to create a new environment and regime of press and information freedom during the period of premiership of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Prime Minister.
Eleven years ago, when Abdullah was first appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, there were high hopes that he would accord priority to restore public confidence in various key government institutions by giving the Home Ministry a human face, including loosening up and removing the press controls in the country to usher an era of free, fair and responsible press in Malaysia.
This was why on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 1999, some 600 journalists in Malaysia - which grew to over 1,000 journalists the following World Press Freedom Day 2000 - presented a memorandum to Abdullah calling for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and other repressive laws fettering the development of a free and responsible press as well as the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act.
Abdullah had given a solemn undertaking to the Malaysian journalists at the time that he would give their memorandum serious consideration.
But even when Abdullah became the Prime Minister in November 2003, he never graduated beyond “serious consideration” of the press freedom memorandum of over 1,000 Malaysian journalists.
Although there was an air and climate of greater tolerance of press freedom, allowing an increase of publications as well as internet sites, there was no movement whatsoever towards dismantling the apparatus of media control, censorship and repression which remain basically intact for a new Mahathir to impose a new media darkness by invoking these instruments of media control and censhorship in the country.
We seem to be at the moment in the nation’s history deciding whether there is going to be a return of the Mahathirish media darkness, with Najib flirting with the possibility of invoking the Mahathirish instruments of media censorship to consolidate his political power base in the country.
Already, international rankings for Malaysian press freedom are already at an all-time low.
Malaysia is at the lowest rating in the history of Reporters without Borders annual press freedom index, with its 2009 rating dropping to 44.25 points when we were rated 39.02 in 2008, 41 in 2007, 22.25 in 2006, 33 in 2005, 39.83 in 2004.
Malaysia has not done any better in the 2010 world press freedom index compiled by Freedom House, placed No. 141 out of 196 countries and remaining in the bottom 32 per cent of countries which fall under the “not free” category. (Malaysia has imperceptible improvement of two places from No. 143 for 2009).
Is there going to be the coming of the new Mahathir media dark age under Najib?
Let this be decided by Malaysians and not by the Umno-Barisan Nasional leadership.
*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timor