Call for greater press freedom as one of the necessary "bitter medicine" Malaysia must take as part of the political, economic and financial reforms to restore the economy to health, recovery and dynamism

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Greater openness, accountability and transparency is one of the bitter medicine the government must take as part of the political, economic and financial reforms if the Malaysian economy is to be restored to health and dynamism in the shortest possible time. This means the government must permit greater press freedom in the country, not to be an obstacle to an united national effort to promote national economic recovery, but to identify, expose and remove obstacles and factors which would hamper a quick economic turnaround.

The Malaysian press can only play one of two roles in the national effort at economic recovery and turnaround - to play an active and independent role to help restore the return of confidence or to continue to play a negative role in trying to promote a "denial syndrome" in the country.

What Western media say is not gospel truth, but it does no harm for the Malaysian media in particular and Malaysians in general to consider its argument that the press in Asia had contributed to the Asian economic turmoil, on the ground that the press in most Asian countries is either an appendage of the ruling political powers or indirectly controlled by them. "Consequently, rarely do in-depth reports bring to light dirty deals and flawed financial records."

Last month, one American newspaper, San Jose Mercury News, carried the following report:

It then referred to a recent Human Rights Watch/Asia report which blamed press censorship as contributing to Southeast Asia's current financial woes.

This report was most unflattering about the Malaysian press, when it said:

It was reported today that the International Advisory Panel (IAP) on the Multimedia Super Corridor, comprising the Who’s Who in the world IT industry like Bill Gates of Microsoft, James Barkdale of Netscape, Louis Gerstner of IBM, Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, Larry Ellison of Oracle, world-renowed strategists like Alvin Toffler and Kenichi Ohmae and chaired by Dr. Mahathir, would be holding its second meeting in Kuala Lumpur in mid-February next year.

The IAP of the MSC, which held its first meeting in mid-January this year at the Stanford University in California, has as its primary responsibility to provide advice and counsel to the Prime Minister and the Malaysian Government on strategic issues related to the MSC, such as infrastructure and the environment, policies and cyberlaws, marketing and incentives, and the development of domestic industries.

This report said:

It is great to see a new trend of some local press playing a more critical and independent role as watchdogs of society.

Mingguan Malaysia on 21st December 1997 in its editorial comment "Jangan Permudahkan Rakyat", wrote:

A week earlier, another daily, Berita Minggu in its Sunday Komentar of 14th December 1997 under the heading "Mengkritik diri lebih mulia daripada dikritik" said:

This is the time for the Malaysian mass meda to conduct a soul-searching as to whether there is any basis in the thesis in the Western media that the Malaysian press must also bear responsibility for the economic crisis because of their failure to be the people’s watchdog to identify and expose corrupt practices and policy mistakes.

All Malaysians hope that the more critical and independent stance shown in the recent Utusan Malaysia and Berita Minggu editorials are not just "one swallow that does not make a spring" but represent an expression of greater press freedom in Malaysia to better enable the country to face up to the national economic crisis, find a solution and effect a revival and turnaround in the shortest time possible.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong