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Zam’s “Declaration of War” against the media – a setting for another Operation Lalang and  the first public fissure of contending factions in the Abdullah Cabinet?


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Saturday) The Information Minister, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin, has issued a “declaration of war” against the media.  At stake is not just press freedom, but also  human rights and good governance in Malaysia.


Zainuddin  accused two “mainstream newspapers” of abusing their “freedom”, claimed  that the government has already collected ample evidence of the “crime”  of certain local newspapers to “undermine  the credibility of Islam as the official religion and the rights of all communities as contained in the Federal Constitution”,  raised the spectre of May 13 and the possibility of another “Operation Lalang”, warned  that the government “means business” and “will  not tolerate” the media which “inflame communalism and religious issues”.


Most ominous of all, Zainuddin  dismissed the view that the “honeymoon” period for press freedom of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi  is over by declaring that there was never any such “honeymoon period”!


Is Zainuddin’s “declaration of war” against the media  a sombre setting for a major crackdown on fundamental liberties and freedoms in Malaysia – another Operation Lalang?


Has Zainuddin the full authority and prior clearance of the Prime Minister to issue such a contentious and combative statement – especially the assertion that  Abdullah never intended to have any “honeymoon period” for press freedom, and by extension, accountability, transparency and good governance,  on becoming Prime Minister? If so, why wasn’t this announcement made  by Abdullah himself?  Is this because Abdullah wants to continue to appear as a “Mr. Nice” in a Jekyl-and-Hide scenario?


Or is Zainuddin’s outburst the first public fissure of contending factions in the Cabinet where the Prime Minister’s writ cannot even  extend to his own Ministers, with Ministers openly misinterpreting if not hijacking Abdullah’s wishes and intentions?


Zainuddin also referred to the recent controversy over the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Ethnic Relations guidebook,  citing it as the latest  example of newspapers  of being “unnecessary contentious” and “blowing out of proportion” religious and communal issues.


In making such a comment, is Zainuddin seriously suggesting in a very public manner  that the Cabinet, or at least the  Prime Minister,  had been wrong or  misled into  ordering  a withdrawal of the UPM Ethnic Relations guidebook and a review of the university module?


Although all Cabinet Ministers have openly declared support for the Prime Minister in the escalating “war” between the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah, no one can be sure as to how many Cabinet Ministers will fully back the Prime Minister when the crunch comes – and Zainuddin clearly belong to the list of “doubtfuls”.


Abdullah should immediately clarify the many questions raised by Zainuddin’s “declaration of war” against the media, including:


  • whether Zainuddin is fully authorized by him  to issue such a “declaration”;


  • whether it presages another Operation Lalang and crackdown on the media specifically and human rights generally;


  • whether Abdullah’s position has become so weakened by the Mahathir attacks that hardliners in Cabinet and government are having a upper hand to hijack his agenda and even to conduct an open internecine warfare.


The ball is in Abdullah’s court. He should be the one to disabuse Malaysians of the belief that there had been a “honeymoon period” for press freedom when he first became Prime Minister.


Abdullah should also clarify whether he had elevated Zainuddin to be the  “czar” of the Malaysia media, delegating to the Information Minister all the powers of the Internal Security Minister with regard to mass media in the country.



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

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