(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): While mass media interest continues to focus on the "surprise" which the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had promised in his UMNO presidential address tomorrow, I call on Mahathir to give two "surprises" when he speaks at the UMNO General Assembly tomorrow - a full party and government commitment to make the next general election the most "free, fair and clean" rather than the dirtiest in history and to allow greater press freedom in Malaysia.
In fact, the live television coverage of the UMNO Youth/Wanita General Assembly today and the UMNO General Assembly in the next few days are the best examples of the misuse of public resources and unfair control of the mass media which are among the chief causes why general elections in Malaysia fail to pass the test of being "free, fair and clean".
The Information Minister Tan Sri Khalil Ya’akob had said that the government-run television channels are under no obligation to report Opposition news. He also said that the television does not have to feel apologetic for not giving the Opposition the news coverage.
Khalil personifies Barisan Nasional Ministers and leaders who cannot understand the important distinctions between the government and the party, or the public and the personal, equating party interests with government interests and personal interests with public interests. This is why government Ministers can take the ridiculous leap of accusing their critics as disloyal and anti-national, forgetting that being critical of government policies is not an act of treason but represents the highest act of loyalty and patriotism in wanting to bring about the betterment of the nation.
It is such mentality and political culture equating personal with public interest and party with government interest that is the root cause of the corruption of public life, aggravated by four decades of Barisan Nasional political hegemony because of uninterrupted two-thirds Parliamentary majority.
It is not surprising that in a recent survey by the Hong Kong-based
Political & Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) on Asian press freedom,
Malaysia came out badly in terms of the most severe press censorship exercised
by the government.
Respondents to its annual survey said press censorship was greatest in Vietnam and China at 9.5 and 7.89 respectively on a scale of 10, "where authorities often view the main function of the media as a tool for propaganda."
Malaysia rating 7.25 (7.3) placed it as the third worst country out of 11 Asian countries surveyed - taking into account the quality of reporting, and degree of official and unofficial censorship.
Greater press freedom is one important criteria as to whether the next election could be "free, fair and clean" or whether it would, as intimated by Mahathir recently, the "dirtiest" in history.
Is Mahathir prepared to give these two "surprises" tomorrow, that the next election will be the most "free, fair and clean" in history and to allow greater press freedom in Malaysia?