If the Information Ministry cannot respond quickly to scotch rumours on the Internet, then the time has come to look for a new Information Minister

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): I welcome the new resolve by the Information Minister, Tan  Sri Khalil Yaakob that his Ministry would take immediate action to overcome lies and allegations made against leaders, especially stories slandering the Prime Minister.  However, this is a problem which cannot be overcome with new resolutions but only with new mind-sets in keeping with a new  information technology (IT) culture.

Khalil  said the "lies" posted on  the Internet about the country's leaders including that Datuk Seri  Dr Mahathir Mohamad had fallen off a horse while holidaying in Argentina were "vicious" and that they had "a bad effect on the country."

Khalil said that while such lies spread quickly, it took time to  put the record straight.

If the Information Ministry cannot respond quickly to scotch rumours on the Internet, where Internet users in Malaysia are expected to rise from 1.27 million last year  to 1.89 million this year, increasing  by a million  every year to reach four million by 2004,  then the time has come to look for a new Information Minister.

The Information Ministry had failed badly in the recent flap over the Prime Minister’s health condition, and it should be courageous enough to own up to its shortcomings in not putting in place a sensitive and smart information strategy to deal with an information technology society where information and  rumours are instantaneous - without regard to geography or time.

The Barisan Nasional government would be well-advised not to look for scape-goats or to use the occasion for another crackdown against the opposition and dissent.

Yesterday, Star senior news editor in his "Comment" blamed Wednesday’s 11.11 point-drop of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index (KLCI) on rumours over Mahathir’s health, declaring that "the latest round of rumours is no longer a political issue" but "clear-cut case of economic sabotage as hard-earned money, involving small-time investors, has been lost".

Last evening, a campaign was orchestrated on the Internet to accuse me of the crime  of "economic sabotage" in spreading the rumour about Mahathir’s fall from a horse.

At about 5 p.m., there was an Internet posting accusing me of being responsible for the rumours that "the PM had fallen off a horse and that all was not well with the man", that "the PM had succumbed to illness and that his condition is far from ‘stable’", and that  the Stock Exchange, "the centre of rumours in the country, reacted as expected, dipping and dipping".

This was quickly followed by another post on the Internet accusing me of spreading "lies and rumours with malicious intent that the PM has fall from horseback and seriously ill and all other sort of rumours that is related to it", even linking me to an alleged Internet posting at a purported reformasi website that "said PM has died and his death would be announce two days later which is on Saturday".  I am not aware until now  of any Internet posting that the PM had died.

I was accused of serving foreign masters in wanting "the KLSE to crash like the 97-98 scenario and our economy go backwards and many of us be out of job again".

This second posting demand that I be charged under the sedition act and for espionage.

I came to know of these two  postings after I had attended a meeting of the  Barisan Alternative Leadership Council in Petaling Jaya which ended shorftly after  7 p.m. and I immediately challenged the one who put up the first posting to "refer to a single instance on the internet where I had said that the PM had fallen off a horse and that he is not well"  or  that "he has succumbed to illness and his condition far from stable". I ended: "If you cannot, plse refrain from rumour-mongering."

There had been no response in the last 12 hours. There cannot be any response for I had never spread any such rumours.

The first time I made reference to the fall-from-horse rumour was in my media statement of 25th January 2000, in reference  to the New Straits Times report of the same day on the rumour.  This is what I said in my media statement:

With regard to the charges of "economic sabotage" by Wong Chun Wai and the Internet postings, the best response is made by a swift posting by another Malaysian netizen last evening, which said:


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman