(Penang, Thursday): Two days ago, I expressed regret that the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) had for over a fortnight kept a strange silence on the newest threat to human rights in Malaysia and called on it to speak up against the grave threat to press freedom and democracy posed by the MCA takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press.
I am glad that Suhakam has finally broken its silence during the Suhakam roadshow to Kuantan yesterday, and the Suhakam Chairman Tan Sri Musa Hitam has agreed that the MCA takeover of the two Chinese national dailies constitute a threat to a free, fair, independent and responsible press.
This is the report in Utusan Malaysia today, under the heading “Masyarakat
Cina tidak dapat gambaran sebear - Suhakam”:
“Kuantan 6 June - Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia (Suhakam) menyifatkan tindakan MCA membeli Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd. akan menyebabkan masyarakat Cina gagal mendapat gambaran sebenar mengenai sesuatu isu.
“Pengerrusi Suhakam, Tan Sri Musa Hitam berkata, ini kerana melalui pembelian itu MCA akan memonopoli perniagaan persuratkhabaran berbahasa Cina di negara ini.
“’Ia menyebabkan masyarakat Cina mendapat gambaran secara sebelah pihak sahaja. Maknanya, apabila ada monopoli akhbar Cina oleh satu parti, kebebasan rakyat untuk mendapat gambaran yang pelbagai, sudah tidak boleh lagi,’ katanya kepada pemberita selepas mengadakan pertemuan dengan ketua-ketua kerajaan dan badan bukan kerajaan (NGO) di Pahang, di Hotel Vistana di sini. Pertemuan itu dalam siri jelajah ke negeri-negeri untuk menerangkan peranan Suhakam.
“Musa di minta mengulas pengambilaihan Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd. oleh sayap pelaburan MCA, Huaren Holdings yang mendapat bantahan pelbagai pihak.”
As a statutory body set up by Parliament “for the protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia”, Suhakam should be in the very forefront in the country right from the beginning in its concern at the further trampling of human rights, in particular the freedom of expression and a free press, resulting from the greater concentration of political party media ownership with MCA acquisition of two national Chinese newspapers, Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press.
I call on Suhakam not to abdicate from its statutory responsibility and to be in the national vangard to create awareness that the MCA takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press constitutes a grave threat to press freedom, human rights and democracy in Malaysia.
Musa is correct when he said in Kuantan yesterday that Suhakam is not an enforcement agency but an advisory board which gives views on matters of human rights.
Suhakam’s powers and functions are set out in Section 4 of the Human
Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, which states:
“4. (1) In furtherance of the protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia, the functions of the Commission shall be -
(a) to promote awareness and to provide education in relation to human rights;
(b) to advise and assist the Government in formulating legislation and administrative directives and procedures and recommend the necessary measures to be taken;
(c) to recommend to the Government with regard to the subscription or accession of treaties and other international instruments in the field of human rights; and
(d) to inquire into complaints regarding infringements of human rights referred to in Section 12.”
Suhakam should act under Section 4(1)(a) of the Act “to promote awareness and to provide education” to the Malaysian people and the government as to how the MCA takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press constitutes a grave threat to press freedom, human rights and democracy.
It should also act under Section 4(1)(b) to advise the Government that the MCA takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press poses a grave threat to press freedom, human rights and democracy and recommend legislative or administrative measures against such human rights threat.
Suhakam can carry out its statutory duty “to promote awareness” of the human rights threat posed by MCA takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press by the holding of public hearings where both the proponents and opponents of the takeover could make their submissions, which should be a most educational process and a high point in the promotion and protection of human rights.
DAPSY had lodged a formal complaint to Suhakam on the human rights threat posed by the MCA takeover of the two Chinese dailies. Suhakam has therefore full justification to act on the complaint and not to remain a bystander in this important human rights battle.
Although it is only a week since the MCA’s takeover of Nanyang Siang
Pau and China Press, and despite being under great pressure to show that
its editorial independence has not been adversely affected, we are already
seeing signs of MCA editorial interferences in the two dailies from
the following two instances:
There is another reason why it is urgent and imperative that Suhakam should play a more active role in this issue - to protect the livelihood of the over one thousand workers in the two Chinese national dailies, as MCA’s outright defiance of the overwhelming opposition of the Chinese community to the MCA gobbling up of the two Chinese newspapers would result in both these papers suffering the fate of Tong Bao.
Tong Bao was the first Chinese national newspaper the MCA took over but which had to fold up when its circulation plunged from 100,000 to 10,000 a day when it lost the confidence of the Chinese community.
The circulation of the two Chinese dailies have dropped sharply in the past week as a result of the loss of confidence of the Chinese community, with Nanyang Siang Pau’s sale and subscription dropping as much as some 20 per cent in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
The drop in the circulation of both Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press will continue, resulting in their ending up as the Tong Baos of the 21st century, unless the MCA leadership is prepared to heed the legitimate demands of the Chinese community and immediately relinquish ownership of the two Chinese newspapers and save the livelihood of the over 1,000 workers involved.