Aliran is perturbed that police have begun investigations into a Malaysiakini report which allegedly slandered the police. The news portal’s breaking news-report had initially stated – incorrectly as it turned out – that police personnel could have been involved in the incident in which a man sprayed chemical irritant at former premier Tun Dr Mahathir and former Umno strongman Datuk Ibrahim Ali.
The incident took place at the Sultan Ismail Petra airport in Kota Baru, Kelantan on 28 July 2006.
The police action is ominous, coming as it does soon after the negative ministerial comments about Internet reports – which have the unfortunate effect of curbing the vibrant and bold news coverage of political happenings in the country. Is this the forerunner of a crackdown on our democratic space and a denial of access to news that the authorities find unpalatable? Are we about to witness the encroachment of oppressive rule in Malaysia?
Malaysiakini editor Steven Gan has explained that the initial newsflash merely mentioned the possibility of police involvement. With the presence of men dressed in dark jackets and in the chaos and confusion of the moment, it would appear that a genuine mistake could have been made in suggesting police involvement in the episode.
But what is remarkable is that the moment the situation became clearer and it was established that the police were in no way involved in the drama, Malaysiakini, to their credit, promptly rectified their unfortunate reporting within the space of an hour. Clearly, Malaysiakini did not wantonly implicate the police. There was no malice or deliberate intention to malign the police. Malaysiakini did not state as a matter of fact that the police were involved but rather merely suggested such a possibility arising from a chaotic situation.
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Malaysiakini have expressed their regret over their initial report that erroneously implicated the police and are prepared to apologise to the police. They should be commended for owning up to their mistake and making amends for it. This is a noble gesture that must surely be appreciated by the police.
Aliran would like to urge the police to accept Malaysiakini’s apology and close this unfortunate episode. We hope that the people-friendly image – mesra – that the police are projecting in trying to build rapport with the public will prevail in this instance and convince the public that the police have a human face and heart.
On the other hand, a refusal to close this chapter on an amicable note may only reinforce the perception that the police are going after Malaysiakini for all their previous courageous reports highlighting the abuse and heavy-handedness of the police. People should not in any way conclude that it is payback time against Malaysiakini. This will be the inevitable conclusion especially in the light of what Mahathir himself has said. After all, according to the Chinese-language newspaper Sin Chew Daily, Mahathir later said he had initially thought it was police tear gas that struck him.
Malaysians would wonder what the difference is between what Malaysiakini reported and what Mahathir said. Would the police lodge a report against Mahathir and start another investigation in order to appear to be even-handed and convince Malaysians that there are no double standards in their action?
4 August 2006