Root-cause of Malaysiaís economic crisis is not only current account deficit but also information deficit

- Bernama Amendment Bill 1997
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): The MP for Parit Buntar, Rahman Sulaiman, who was former editor-in-chief of Bernama, said just now that there is an international conspiracy of the Western mass media responsible for the spate of negative reports about Malaysia and the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed to undermine and destroy the economy and achievements of the country.

If there is such an international conspiracy of the Western mass media, why then should Bernama be part of it? Last Friday, it was the Bernama report about Mahathirís speech in Kuala Trengganu which was given extensive coverage in the international media, whether it be the Washington Post, the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times or the Sydney Morning Herald, quoting Mahathir as alleging that there is a Jewish conspiracy whose agenda is to undermine the economy of Malaysia and other Muslim nations.

The next day, Mahathir denied that he had said or implied that there was such a Jewish conspiracy against Malaysia and other Muslim nations. Why then did Bernama put out that report which caused both local and international dismay at Mahathirís latest outbursts?

Was it the mistake of Bernama or Mahathir? To be fair to Bernama, Mahathirís speech on the Jewish conspiracy against Malaysia and Muslim nations was not reported just by Bernama, but also by local newspapers.

Berita Harian of Oct. 11, for instance, carried the front-page banner headline "Krisis mata wang angkara Yahudi", which has the by-line of two reporters Azhar Abu Samah and Noor Jaafar, with the report:

Utusan Malaysia also carried the story under its front-page banner headline: "Awas agenda Yahudi - PM dedahkan usaha lemahkan negara-negara Islam", in a report which by-lined Amir Sairufdin:

The Star of the same day carried the story as a Page 2 lead with the headline: "PM: Jews unhappy to see us progress" which said:

Thus, apart from Bernama, there are at least four other local journalists who had written up the same reports about Mahathirís speech. Who were wrong - Mahathir or the Bernama and other local reporters?

Let us not distract the people and nation from the fundamental issue about our eonomic crisis - the question of restoring investor confidence, whether local or foreign.

Let us not take the easy way out by blaming our economic woes on an international mass media or Jewish conspiracy. Where we have made mistakes, let us be honest and brave enough to admit them and make corrections.

I want to make it clear that I am not standing up in Parliament to defend foreign journalists and foreign mass media reports. I fully agree with the Deputy Finance Minister, Datuk Dr. Affifuddin Omar, when he lambasted and questioned the agenda of CNN for showing scenes from the May 13 Incident in its report on Malaysia, as if suggesting that there could be a repetition of racial riots in Malaysia. This is most irresponsible and its motive most questionable and DAP fully supports the Malaysian Government in condemning the CNN for showing scenes from the May 13 Incident.

However, we should not indulge in double standards. Just as we condemn CNN in no uncertain terms for its May 13 Incident scenes, we must also condemn Barisan Nasional leaders who have used the May 13 Incident to intimidate voters in every general elections, for their motives and agenda are as reprehensible as that of CNN.

Are Barisan Nasional leaders prepared to give an undertaking that in future general elections, the May 13 Incident threat would not be resurrercted?

Mahathir attacked the hypocrisy of human rights advocates in the West, ridiculing the "press freedom" in the world when there is only the "freedom to ampu". Mahathirís criticism is not completely invalid. But what about the Malaysian press - do they also suffer from the same restrictions in only enjoying the "right to ampu"?

The pivotal issue in Malaysia today is how to restore confidence in our economic management, and not about whether Mahathir enjoys the support of the people and should continue as Prime Minister.

There is now a lot of unproductive activities to mobilise support for Mahathir, with a reported 2,000-people rally being planned by the Federal Territory Youth Council on Sunday at Dataran Merdeka to express support for Mahathir as Prime Minister. I understand that a meeting expressing support for Mahathir is being held at the Putra World Trade Centre today.

The National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) has directed its 30,000 members to wear special badges, bearing the words "NUBE Supports Dr. Mahathir" for three days to show their support for the Prime Minister, which is very reminiscent of North Korean tactics to muster and mobilise support for the Great Leader - resulting in the wost starvation and famine for millions of North Koreans.

Even in Parliament House, mysterious stickers with the words "We Support Dr. Mahathir" are laid on the tables of all MPs.

Although some Western and even ASEAN newspapers had been very critical of Mahathirís various pronouncements, even with The Nation, the Thai English-language newspaper, coming out with an editorial on Monday that "after 16 years in power, Mahathir has outlived his usefulness", the constitutional position of Mahathir as Prime Minister is very strong and clear.

Why should critical and even unfavourable foreign mass media reports about Mahathir undermine his position as Prime Minister to the extent that there has to be a mobilisation up and down the country to show support for him?

The central issue of the nation today is to address the national economic crisis rather than to embark on a series of unproductive activities like organising public meetings and demonstrations and even wearing North Korean-type of badges expressing support.

The Opposition had not asked for the resignation of Mahathir as Prime Minister. However, if Mahathir feels it necessary to demonstrate to the world that he still commands the confidence of the people to continue as Prime Minister, then he should defer the debate on the 1998 Budget on Monday and move an emergency motion of confidence in him as Prime Minister.

With the nine-tenth parliamentary majority enjoyed by the Barisan Nasional, there should be no doubt that such a confidence motion would get overwhelming parliamentary support, unless something is brewing inside the government and the ruling party.

With the passage of the confidence motion in Parliament, the country can move on to address the national economic crisis rather than indulge in the unproductive activities of public demonstrations and wearing North-Korean type of badges to show support.

One of the root causes of Malaysiaís economic crisis is not just the current accounts deficit, but also information deficit.

A few days ago, the Prime Minister launched the "National IT Awareness" Campaign to involve every Malaysian in the Information Technology revolution. But is the government really serious about wanting Malaysia to leapfrog into the information society?

In an information society, the most important commodity is information which travels at the speed of light. There must be a new mindset in government which must be prepared to be more open, accountable and transparent, encourage free flow of information rather than fear informtion, causing it to censor information and restrict press freedom.

The credibility of the Malaysian press, both locally and internationally, is very low because of the lack of press freedom in Malaysia. This is recognised by Malaysian journalists themselves, as this is not their fault by the fault of the system.

During question time just now, when I tried to refer to an adverse Washington Post report about Mahathir, there was an uproar from the Barisan MPs, who seemed afraid that Malaysians will get to know what are reported in the foreign mass media.

We should have more confidence in the maturity and judgement of our people that they can distinguish between right and wrong, true and untrue, in the adverse foreign media reports about Malaysia, rather than trying to censor or deny access of these foreign mass media reports to the people.


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