(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Penang police reported yesterday the detention of another 43 people "to facilitate investigations into the rioting over the mosque and temple issue in Kampung Rawa", bringing the number of those arrested to 150 since the rioting last Friday.
Malaysians at large have been mystified by the mass media reports on the mosque-temple issue, for what they hear from the grape-vine for the past 11 days not only vary from the mass media reports, which for the first eight days maintained a stony silence on the issue, they also find the mass media reports in the past few days giving a very confusing picture.
At first, the mass media reports give the impression that the mosque-temple dispute at Kampung Rawa, Penang - which seemed to have eruped from nowhere - had been resolved; then there was rioting and arrest of 94 persons last Friday; and then continued reports of tensions and incidents to the extent that the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon announced a 24-hour Operations Room in Komtar to co-ordinate the activities of government departments including social welfare, health and information departments on a matter "which has already been resolved".
In this modern era, when the government is talking about getting the country in the forefront of information technology and leapfrogging Malaysia into the information society, and the need for "smart schools", "smart partnership to resolve the economic crisis" and "smart ways of doing things", the time has come for the government to introduce a "smart information/communications" policy which could ensure public credibility of the government.
It is short-sighted for the government to adopt an outmoded information/communications policy which does not respect the intelligence of Malaysians, as for instance, for the government to maintain for the first several months of the economic turmoil last year that there was no economic crisis to the extent of disallowing the use of the term "economic crisis" and to blame the economic troubles of the country solely on external factors.
This is not a "smart" but a "dumb" information/communication policy which does not help in ensuring public confidence in the government.
There is a need for the authorities concerned to consider whether they have followed a "smart" or "dumb" information/communications policy as far as the mosque-temple issue in Penang is concerned.
For the eight days that the mosque-temple issue simmered in Penang, there was an official media black-out of the dispute creating an information deficit.
Malaysian were kept completely in the dark about the dispute as far as the printed and electronic media are concerned, but there was no way in the era of information technology to suppress information that there is a mosque-temple dispute in Penang which is serious enough for news about it to be officially censored by the authorities.
The net result is that it gave a field day for all sorts of rumours to fly around the country which made the mosque-temple dispute even more serious and scarifying.
The government should consider whether proper information about the mosque-temple dispute rather than a total media blackout would have been more conducive to the avoidance of a situation resulting in a rioting on Friday.
The time has come for Malaysia to have a "smart" and not "dumb" information/communications policy so that the government can have credibility and enjoy public confidence as an important part of crisis management