Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Monday, 4th May 2009:
Malaysian journalists marked World Press Freedom Day yesterday in a totally different spirit from the past ten years, expecting the worst in the coming year when they had hoped for better times in the past decade
Malaysian journalists marked the World Press Freedom Day yesterday in a totally different spirit from the past ten years, expecting the worst in the coming year when they had hoped for better times in the past decade.
Ten years ago, when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi 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 in 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.
Although Abdullah had given a solemn undertaking to the Malaysian journalists at the time that he would give their memorandum serious consideration, nothing was achieved in the five years and five months of his premiership in reforming or repealing the most repressive and draconian press laws and regulations.
When Abdullah was forced out as the shortest-serving Prime Minister early last month, the repressive and draconian press laws he had inherited from the era of Mahathirism remain intact, although they were more sparingly used as to allow for some opening up of media space in the Abdullah premiership.
It was most ominous that the new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak chose to ignore the World Press Freedom Day, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1991 as a day "to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom”, recognizing that press freedom is “a cornerstone of human rights and a guarantee of other freedoms”.
Why didn’t Najib make a speech or issue a message coinciding with the World Press Freedom Day to underline his commitment to “a vibrant, free and informed media” which Najib had publicly pledged in his first few days as Prime Minister?
The answer is quite simple – a cold wintry wind is blowing through the country’s newsrooms, marking the return of Mahathirism with the control freaks back in place to pull the levers of power to manipulate the media and the flow of information to Malaysians.
Nobody was surprised when on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the Malaysian Insider carried a report “Umno reins in its media”, with the following opening paragraphs:
Last year, Malaysia fell to its lowest ranking since the start of the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) worldwide press freedom index, dropping to 132nd position in 2008, the worst in the past seven years, viz:
Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index
2008 - 132 (out of 173 countries)
2007 - 124
2006 - 92
2005 - 113
2004 - 122
2003 - 104
2002 - 110 (out of 139 countries)
Is Malaysia heading towards an even lower ranking in the RSF worldwide press freedom index in the Najib years with the return of Mahathirism?
Mahathir was named by RSF as one of the “predators” of the press in the world for the media censorship he exercised as Prime Minister. Abdullah was never named to this category. Will Najib join Mahathir’s infamous company if the Prime Minister allows a return of Mahathirism particularly in media policies?
*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor