Malaysians have a right to be informed about foreign news reports concerning Malaysia even if these reports are not to the liking to the powers-that-be

- Budget '98 Committee Stage (Information Ministry)
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday): The Chairman of the Barisan Backbenchersí Club, Ruhanie Ahmad in his speech criticised the Information Ministry for its failure to discharge its tasks to explain to the people government policies and events like the real causes of the national economic crisis.

I agree with Ruhanie about the failure of the Information Ministry to carry out its duties, although for different reasons.

The Information Ministry has not been able to resolve one very simple issue, the Kuala Trengganu speech last month of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, which has continued to haunt Malaysiaís international relations, whether economic or political.

During the debate on the confidence motion on the Prime Minister on November 19, I had told the Information Minister, Datuk Mohamad Rahmat that the simple way to resolve the issue as to whether the Prime Minister had alleged that there was an international Jewish conspiracy and agenda to sabotage the economy of Malaysia and other Muslim nations, although he never meant it, was to replay the RTM recording of the speech.

RTM could even replay the Prime Ministerís Kuala Trengganu speech ten or twenty times a day on radion and television - which had been the RTM practice during general elections to give unfair electoral advantage to Barisan Nasional parties - in order to let MPs, whether government or opposition, and the whole country know exactly what was said in Kuala Trengganu.

If Mahathir had made the allegation, although he had not intended it, then the Information Ministry should have advised the Prime Minister to admit and apologise for it, as it would not detract one iota from the standing of the Prime Minister - as to err is human and to forgive divine.

The Information Ministry recently received Cabinet approval to buy space on CNN and foreign mass media to ensure that Malaysia gets fair treatment in the international mass media. However, if the Information Ministry cannot handle the Kuala Trengganu speech issue in a competent and effective fashion, what is the use of buying space on CNN and the foreign mass media, which is itself an admission of failure of Information Ministry responsibilities. This is a real waste of money. What is needed is to have a new Information Minister who is efficient, competent and open-minded and not to squander money in buying space in foreign media, when RTM does not permit foreign governments and even Malaysian opposition parties to buy radio and television time.

Recently, there have been more and more incidents of local mass media blacking out foreign news concerning Malaysia but which may not be to the liking of the powers that be.

I had quoted an incident in my budget speech last month. The latest incident is with regard to the reaction of the US Congressman Robert Wexler to the motion in the Malaysian Parliament on Nov. 19, where all MPs, regardless of government or opposition parties, had condemned his impertinence and arrogance in trying to interfere in the domestic political affairs in Malaysia by proposing a resolution in the House of Representatives calling on Mahathir to resign as Prime Minister.

DAP had declared full support to Mahathir as Prime Minister to reject any foreign attempt to interfere in the domestic political affairs in Malaysia, but Malaysians have the right to information and to know what is happening in the outside world.

According to one foreign report, in his response to the Parliamentary confidence motion on the Prime Minister and which condemned the Wexler resolution and the US Governmentís attempt to impose sanctions on Petronas under the US Libya-Iran Sanctions Act, Wexler said he wanted Mahathir to apologise for his reportedly anti-Jewish remarks to allow the strong bilateral relationship between Malaysia and the US to move on. If not, he said, new action would be considered "reluctantly".

Wexler said he might consider linking some American training assistance to an acknowledgement of inappropriate behaviour by Mahathir. More importantly, he might look into the kind of assistance that the International Monetary Fund might be planning for Malaysia and condition this to an apology.

Wexler said the "whole point" of the non-binding resolution, introduced on Oct. 22, was that both sides should be able to "move on in a positive way" after an apology by Mahathir.

He said House legislators were not asking Mahathir to resign outright. He said: "I donít want him to resign. I want him to acknowledge his remarks as inappropriate", adding that there was a significant period of time for Mahathir to do so before the new congressional calender in late January.

Malaysians condemn Wexler for his arrogance in interfering in the domestic political affairs in Malaysia in calling on Mahathir to resign as Prime Minister, but Malaysians have a right to information as to his response to the Parliamentary motion.

I want to ask whether the Information Ministry had issued a directive to the local press to black out reports about Wexlerís response to the Parliamentary motion and other foreign news reports about Malaysia which were not to the liking to the powers-that-be?

This is a very obsolete attitutude and mentality completely out of tune with the information society the government wants Malaysia to achieve in the new millennium, and I call on the government to embark on ensuring that there is greater press freedom in Malaysia and to respect the fundamental right of Malaysians with regard to the right to information.


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