I have just received my subscriber copy of Asiaweek after it had been held up by the Home Ministry for some three weeks, which has become quite common for certain foreign publications although their articles are available on the Internet even before the arrival of the subscriber copy - which shows not only the high-handedness, but also insensitivity and contempt for press freedom by the Home Ministry handlers.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim has said that the Attorney General's office was in the final stage of drafting laws to make website publishers and writers accountable under the Printing Presses and Publications Act for what they publish and actionable for content the government deems to create public disorder and incite violence against it.
This will be in clear violation of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Bill of Guarantee of no internet censorship which the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathri Mohamad had promised the world, further curtailing freedom of expression as well as putting at risk Malaysia’s ambition to become a world-class IT player.
The government is in real political trouble, unable to win back public confidence and political legitimacy, when it is prepared to go to such extremes as to throw overboard its MSC Bill of Guarantee of no internet censorship to the IT world.
The government should make public its draft proposals for internet censorship to allow for the fullest public discussion and not present the country and Parliament with a fait accompli by virtually laying down a new law on internet censorship allowing for no discussion or debate.
The third black cloud in the gathering darkness for press freedom is the talk of final stages of discussion for the acquisition of Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd, which is the publisher of two Chinese dailies, Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press, by the MCA-controlled Star Publications Bhd. or Huaren Holdings Sdn. Bhd.
One of the factors undermining a free, independent and responsible press is the political ownership of the media in the country, which has already become too rampant in the various language media.
Advocates of a free, independent and responsible press should work for the dilution and dismantling of political ownership of the media in the country and not to see a further concentration of political ownership of the mass media, which would be the case if the MCA directly or indirectly acquires ownership of the two Chinese national dailies.
I call on the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and all working journalists to take a strong stand against further concentration of media ownership and control by political parties to protect the professionalism, independence and credibility of journalists.
There should be the fullest publicity, accountability and transparency of MCA’s attempt to acquire ownership control of Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd as the public interest for a free, independent and responsible press is put at stake when there is a further concentration of political ownership of the two Chinese national newspapers - which is not conducive to the protection and promotion of the human rights of freedom of expression and a free press as well as a meaningful democracy.