(Petaling Jaya, Monday): In Ayer Tawar on Saturday, the Gerakan President and Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik castigated the foreign press for describing Malaysia as one of the worst economies during the Asian economic crisis, causing investors to be reluctant to invest in Malaysia.
He also called for full explanation to the people and foreign investors to counter such a false notion that investing in a multi-racial country like Malaysia may not be viable.
I fully agree with Keng Yaik and am only surprised that he has discovered the grave problem of Information Deficit (ID) in the country so late in the day.
The grave problem of Information Deficit where Malaysians as well as foreigners do not believe the local mass media and prefer to believe what is reported in the foreign mass media even when they are wrong or superficial is also the reason why rumours are having such a heyday in the country during the economic crisis.
For the past few months, the government has been calling on Malaysians not to listen to rumours. Has the Cabinet and now the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) considered why government calls on the people not to listen to rumours did not have any effect?
The reason is simple - the only way to counter and even kill the rumours is to restore the credibility of the local mass media. Unfortunately, the reverse has taken place, with the credibility of the local mass media plunging to new depths in the past few months as a result of tighter government control, to the extent that the people are more interested in what is not reported in the mass media than what is given extensive coverage.
Recently, the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Ong Ka Ting said the public should not accept rumours on the present economic and currency uncertainties easily and instead should verify the facts first.
The question is how, who and where the people could "verify the facts first", when as Parliamentary Opposition Leader, there are so many things I could not verify from any official quarter? I am for instance, still waiting for an answer from the Executive Chairman of the Employees Provident Fund to my request for a meeting to seek clarification about the investment decisions of EPF funds, particularly in the Kuala Lumpur stockmarket, and an assurance that EPF monies would never be used to bail out any troubled companies or individuals.
This is why in my Open Letter to all Cabinet Ministers dated 6th January 1998 before the first 1998 Cabinet meeting, I had listed Information Deficit as the second most important agenda if confidence is to be restored, as information deficit is one of the major causes of the failure of the government to restore public and investor confidence.
I seriously suggest that Keng Yaik should raise in Cabinet and the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) the problem of information deficit to resolve the root cause of why Malaysians believe in foreign mass media and not local mass media, and to table the bold idea of the liberalisation of the Malaysian mass media to restore the credibility of the press among Malaysians as well as foreigners.