Where is free and fair press in Malaysia when there is big play up of Mahathir being picked TIME’s  Asian Newsmaker of 1998 while Anwar’s being picked NEWSWEEK’s Asian of the Year is blacked out

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday):  Yesterday, Bernama’s story of the  Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr
 Mahathir Mohamad being  chosen by Time magazine as its Asia's  Newsmaker of 1998 was given great prominence in the "mainstream" mass media in Malaysia.

Although TIME magazine was regularly condemned as one of the tools of Western  imperialism out to recolonise and subjugate Malaysia, TIME magazine’s choice of Mahathir was liberally quoted by the mainstream Malaysian mass media.

The mainstream mass media quoted Bernama in describing TIME magazine as "the world's No. 1 newsmagazine" and TIME’s explanation for  its choice of Mahathir as Asia’s Newsmaker of 1998:

"No one drove the news with such ferocity this year as Dr. M -- and that  makes him Asia's Newsmaker of 1998."
Time describes the prime minister, who turned 73 on Dec 20, as brisk,  modern, quick to diagnose and even readier to prescribe.

"In addition to crafting Malaysia's grand, national affirmative action scheme,  Dr Mahathir also personally chose bathroom fixtures for the world's tallest  building, Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers," it said.

 The magazine wrote about Dr Mahathir's firing of his deputy Datuk Seri  Anwar Ibrahim in September, the street demonstrations that followed and the  exchange controls on the Malaysian currency.

"He put the world on notice that unfettered capitalism may not be for every  country --a concept that has gained adherents worldwide since Mahathir  began raving about speculators' conspiracies and Jewish financial cabals  more than a year ago," it said.

According to TIME, few believe the "battle" between Dr Mahathir and Anwar has ended, adding that what will ultimately determine Dr Mahathir's fate isn't Anwar's ongoing trial on corruption and sexual misconduct, but the economy.

However, Malaysians must ask where is free and fair press in the country when there is big play up of Mahathir being picked TIME’s  Asian Newsmaker of 1998 by Bernama and the mainstream media while Anwar’s being picked NEWSWEEK’s Asian of the Year is blacked out.

In choosing Anwar as the "Asian of the Year", NEWSWEEK explained:

"Ugly as the trial is, Malaysians know the real fight is in the political arena. It is about the wrath of a conservative old man and the liberal protégé who dared to challenge him. It is about the clash between a rebel fighting the  colonial demons of yesteryear and his would-be successor, a man of the world who espouses universal values and the global village. Anwar is no Mahatma Gandhi. He is a wily, determined politician fighting not just for  survival but for power. It is the larger battle that he personifies — between old and new politics in East Asia, authoritarian and democratic governments, protected and open economies — that makes him NEWSWEEK's Asian of the Year."

The latest edition of Newsweek also carried an exclusive article entitled "Prayer from Prison" by the former Deputy Prime Minister  from Sungai Buloh Prison, where Anwar wrote:

"As often happens under despotic and dictatorial regimes, Mahathir's government tries to deflect attention from the real issues by creating foreign bogeys and portraying its critics as traitors. Patriotism is given a new meaning; instead of willingness to sacrifice for love of country, it is equated with unquestioning loyalty to the ruling elite.

"The true patriot is one who fights to unchain his people from the shackles of colonial-style practices, in the form of suppressive laws, the denial of  basic human rights or even the squandering of public funds. Modern dictators, when they are finally thrown out of office, are often found to have accumulated enormous amounts of wealth. They are no different from  the old colonial masters who used to cart away the riches of the colonies to the motherland.

"In Malaysia, we do have — though only in theory — clear separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Yet for the greater part of the past 17 years, the organs of government have been  mere puppets, with Mahathir pulling all the strings. Legislators, regardless of their party affiliation, should be committed to upholding the people's constitutional rights and freedoms. Might is not always right. The actions of key executive organs of government, such as the police and the office of the attorney general, ought to be under constant parliamentary scrutiny.

"There cannot be an Asian renaissance without social and economic justice. Economic progress has meaning only when the majority of the people enjoy its fruits. Under Mahathir's grandiose economic program, important issues such as hard-core poverty, the safety of working conditions and the availability of basic housing are dealt with only at the periphery.

"Naturally, we would not see social and economic justice until we see the end of cronyism and nepotism. In Malaysia, a select and selfish few have appropriated the lion's share of the wealth generated by economic development. What was meant to be affirmative action has turned into a system of corruption and favoritism. Projects and contracts are won on the basis of whom you know instead of what you know. The handful of people who keep getting the largesse continue to get richer at the expense of  others. Cronyism breeds nepotism and corruption. It's a vicious circle.

"Affirmative action in itself is not evil. It is in fact essential in redressing economic imbalances that were the result of decades of social  mismanagement. However, in practice, the selfish exploitation of this intrinsically noble effort at social engineering has been developed into a fine art. It is used to further the interests of a handful of bumiputra, or indigenous Malay, cronies, acting for themselves and, in some cases, for non-bumiputra cronies, all at the expense of the majority."

Will Anwar’s "Prayer from Prison" be given space in the Malaysian mass media?

When can Malaysians expect fair and even-handed treatment of all shades of opinion in the Malaysian mainstream media to qualify the Malaysians press to claim that there is really free press in the country?


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