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Will the net result of the latest NST furore see  a rollback  of  freedom of information and expression and tighter media censorship clampdown when Abdullah’s pledge of an open society had only taken its  first few tottering  steps in 28 months?


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Thursday):In a second successive front-page  statement, New Straits Times today declared “We apologise. Unreservedly.” for the Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur syndicated cartoon which shows a street artist sitting on a chair next to a sign reading: “Caricatures of Muhammad While You Wait” and a boxed caption: “Kevin finally achieves his goal to be the most feared man in the world.”

What many Malaysians find distressful and ominous is whether  the net result  of the latest NST furore will see  a rollback  of  freedom of information and expression and tighter media censorship clampdown when the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s pledge of an open society had only taken its  first few baby-tottering  steps after 28 months?

Bigger battles than the fate of NST and its editorial chiefs are being waged in the furore over the Non Sequitur cartoon.

Firstly, there is  the contest between UMNO and PAS to out-Islam each other. The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz admitted in his dialogue with the Bar Council on Wednesday that “the race for votes has led political parties like Umno and PAS to use Islam as a platform and do things which ‘we do not believe in’ at the expense of the nation”. Nazri admitted  this is a “disservice to our nation”.

Secondly, the test of will and intensifying power tussle  in UMNO.

Thirdly, a policy struggle on the meaning,  thrust and direction  of the reform pledge and programme of Abdullah after the unprecedented Barisan Nasional landslide 2004 electoral victory with 92% parliamentary majority.  Two days before he was promoted Information Minister, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin had spelt out his vision of tighter  media control and censorship, on the need for the Printing Presses and Publications Act and Sedition Act “to ensure that the media do not abuse their freedom” and his ominous words:

"There is a lot of evidence to show that they (certain media) are not being sensitive towards certain issues. This happens because there are journalists from the local media who, having served with the foreign media, embrace the western style freedom and not freedom the Malaysian way."

It will be a repudiation of the Prime Minister’s reform pledge and programme to lead an open, accountable, transparent and trustworthy administration if the forces for tighter media censorship and the  rollback of freedom of expression and information are now triumphant and  have their way, when there is still very little to show in any  real opening up of the media and freedom of expression and information under the Abdullah premiership.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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