Aliran is appalled that all the top editors of the mainstream newspapers in the country have been recently directed by the Ministry of Internal Security not to cite and publish “anti-government articles” from online portals and blogs.
This directive is nothing but a glaring and deplorable state intervention in the daily affairs of the editorial management of the newspapers concerned. In doing so, the government is shamelessly forcing the mainstream media to practise excessive self-censorship and ‘cue journalism’ rather than be concerned with investigative journalism, which among other things exposes corruption, wastage, abuse of power and violations of human rights.
The thinly-veiled threat that accompanies this directive is likely to be taken seriously by most if not all of the newspaper editors given the powers that are conferred on the Minister concerned by the Printing Presses and Publications Act. This worrying development signals a further regression of press freedom in Malaysia under an administration that ironically promises to be transparent and accountable. This move by the government negates all the inspiring platitudes that have been voiced in defence of democratic values and the declared fight against corruption.
Equally serious is the negative implication on online portals and blogs as a whole because this directive is intended to tarnish them with one stroke of the pen, giving the impression that blogs and portals are by definition ‘anti-government’, reckless, irresponsible, sensational, without any respect for the truth.
But discerning Malaysians would recall that if not for these online portals and blogs, the various scandals that have been exposed would not have seen the light of day. The recent exposes were the direct result of these online portals and blogs that highlighted alleged corruption and abuse of power in high places involving a deputy minister and the Director General of the Anti Corruption Agency.
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The government’s attempt to muzzle and shackle the mainstream media only confirms the suspicion that the recent ‘exposes’ of these financial scandals by some blogs and portals might have embarrassed and indeed irked the powers-that-be. To prevent any further ventilation of other corrupt practices, it seems, the government is tightening the screws and forcing the media to be docile and impotent.
If their contention that these bloggers are out to create unnecessary ill-feelings towards the government is true, then it begs the question why did the authorities take the blogsphere seriously when a few websites and blogs highlighted allegations of corruption against the ACA chief Zulkipli Mat Noor and Internal Security Deputy Minister Mohd Johari Baharum? If anything, these blogs and websites did this out of sheer recognition of their social responsibility that demands that the media are there to inform, educate, act as a check and balance, and to hold the government accountable for its conduct.
In all earnestness, we urge the Internal Security Ministry to withdraw this absurd directive as it not only makes a mockery of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s purported commitment to transparency and his declared wish to work in tandem with the people, but also goes against the very notion of an open, democratic and progressive society.
Dr Mustafa K Anuar & Anil Netto
19 March 2007