The Barisan Nasional Government should be more democratic and be prepared for an open contest of ideas with opposition parties by lifting its ban on political parties from selling their periodicals to the public


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday):
In his UMNO General Assembly winding-up speech, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said the government would enforce a ban on the public sale of PAS official organ, Harakah, and that those found selling the PAS tabloid would face action.

This is a most undemocratic and retrograde step, at a time when Malaysia should be mature enough after 40 years of Merdeka to be more open and democratic than in the early years of nationhood.

In fact, the ban on the public sale of political party publications is a recent one, as the Rocket, the DAP organ, had for the 25 years from 1966 to 1990 been allowed to be sold freely to the Malaysian public. It might have been an embarrassment to the Barisan Nasional government but it had never been a threat to the security, stability or development of the country.

The decision in 1990 to ban opposition parties from the public sale of their party organs is not dictated by national interest, but solely from the partisan interests of the Barisan Nasional component parties, which sacrificed democracy and freedom of expression to better perpetuate their political power through unfair and undemocratic means.

Instead of threatening to take action against Harakah, the Government should be more democratic and loosen the fetters on press freedom in Malaysia, such as restoring the previous practice which had prevailed in the country for 33 years from Merdeka in 1957 to 1990 in allowing official organs of political parties to be freely on public sale as well as allowing the general printed and electronic media greater space for investigative journalism and independent comments.

In asking for greater press freedom, nobody is asking for absolute licence, as the abuses of the paparazzi photographers to hound Princess Diana to death.

Malaysia should learn from the recent unfortunate episode where foreign and local press coverage of the currency and stock market turmoil had never been more different, which is most unhealthy if Malaysia wants to compete in the global marketplace.

Malaysia should never return to a situation where on economic and financial matters, Malaysians are feel so constrained from expressing their views for fear that certain congruency of their views with comments in the foreign press would be regarded as "anti-national" and traitorous for being pawns and stooges, whether consciously or unconsciously, of international financial forces out to sabotage Malaysia’s economy and therefore liable to penalised under the draconian Internal Security Act.

The time has come for the Barisan Nasional government, with its ninth-tenth majority in Parliament, not to be afraid of a free competition of ideas by allowing greater press freedom in Malaysia and to restore the democratic rights of opposition parties with regard to the public sale of their party organs.

(9/9/97)


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