DAP calls on Cabinet to introduce a new information policy in keeping with a Knowledge Economy and Information Society to inform, enlighten and educate the people instead of current practices of certain Ministries to obstruct , obscure and obfuscate the free flow of information as in the virulent dengue outbreak which had claimed 54 lives
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): DAP calls on the Cabinet to introduce a new information policy in keeping with a Knowledge Economy and Information Society to inform, enlighten and educate the people instead of current practices of certain Ministries to obstruct, obscure and obfuscate the free flow of information as in the virulent dengue outbreak which had claimed 54 lives.
After my media statement yesterday calling for the resignation of the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng for his Ministerial irresponsibility in failing to launch a high-impact national awareness campaign against the virulent dengue outbreak which has claimed nearly as many lives as during the worst dengue outbreak in 1998 - which killed 58 – and for allowing rampant misinformation about the gravity of the outbreak, the parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Health, S. Sothinathan told the AFP that the dengue outbreak had claimed 54 lives this year with 10,753 confirmed cases reported nationwide.
AFP quoted Sothinathan as saying that Malaysia is “currently experiencing an increase in the number of cases compared to last year, but it has not reached the epidemic stage".
Sothinathan said that last year, Malaysia posted 50 deaths and reported 8,669 dengue cases.
Sothinathan’s response to AFP is the best example of the utterly irresponsible manner of top Health Ministry officials, going all the way to the Minister of Health himself, in handling vital information affecting the national interest, such as public health and human lives.
The fact that the dengue outbreak this year had claimed 54 lives is a very important information which should be made available to all Malaysians through all mass media, whether printed or electronic, local or foreign, and of all language medium, so that the public are made fully aware of the deadly seriousness of the dengue outbreak, with a fatality only four short of the worst dengue outbreak in 1998 which killed 58.
This information should be shouted all over the nation from the roof-tops if necessary to make every Malaysian bestir from his or her complacency and ignorance so as to take the necessary anti-dengue preventive actions, instead of being given like a “thief in the night” to one foreign news agency which would reach only a minuscule fraction of the Malaysian public, in response to my media statement.
Why wasn’t this latest information about the dengue outbreak given to all the local media so that it could be published in all the daily press of all languages and well as broadcast on radio and television as a warning to all Malaysians to prevent any more unnecessary and avoidable sufferings and even deaths? Failure to do so tantamounts to criminal negligence which must be condemned and censured in the strongest possible terms.
Sothinathan’s statement to the AFP that there are 54 deaths and 10,753 confirmed cases reported nationwide this year while last year Malaysia posted 50 deaths and reported 8,669 dengue cases raised even more questions.
Firstly, the information that there were 50 deaths from dengue in the country last year is a “shocker” for this information was never revealed to the Malaysian public before.
All that Malaysians know is that the worst fatalities occurred in 1998 when 58 died followed by 1997 when 50 died, as in the following data from the World Health Organisation on “Dengue fever/dengue haemorrhagic fever cases and deaths” for Malaysia from 1991 to 2000:
Secondly, how could Sothinathan claim that there are only 10,753 confirmed cases reported nationwide this year and 8,669 cases reported last year when the Health Ministry had officially confirmed in October that there had been 12,992 dengue cases reported in the first seven months of the year, as compared to 8,848 cases for the comparative period last year?
Sothinathan should know for instance that the number of dengue cases in the worst-affected states like Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Perak have more than doubled from August to November when compared to the first seven months of the year.
Malaysians are entitled to know the truth about the number of cases and deaths, state by state, month by month, as a result of the dengue outbreak this year and Chua Jui Meng should live up to his responsibility to immediately issue a full and truthful account of the dengue outbreak or relinquish his post as Health Minister so that he would not contribute to any more avoidable human sufferings and deaths by his Ministerial irresponsibility.
In developing a new information policy in keeping with a government sensitive and responsive to changing times in the era of information technology, the Cabinet should also ensure that it is a fair and just policy which avoids double standards.
What happened in the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court yesterday is most shocking and a blot to all sense of fairness and justice in the country.
In an unprecedented ruling, the Syariah High Court judge Abu Bakar Ahmad barred the media from reporting the details of the charges and proceedings of khalwat against D. Heryati Abdul Rahim, 41, the second wife of former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Ghafar Baba and three Bosnian International Islamic University students, Admir Mehinovic 23, Izudin Mulalic, 27 and Mirza Traklo, 25.
Whether in syariah or civil courts and proceedings, there should not be one rule for the powerful and influential and another rule for the ordinary people.
If the principle is accepted that there should not be media reports about khalwat cases because it could cause “embarrassment”, then it should apply to all cases and persons and not just confined to “high-profile cases” involving important personalities.
There were no such considerations of avoiding “embarrassment” and banning media reports when the PAS Member of Parliament, Mohamad Sabu, was arrested and charged for khalwat and for which he was subsequently acquitted – and Mohamad Sabu virtually underwent a trial by the media!
In fact, the way the media handled the dengue outbreak this year as well as the Heryati case provide a good insight as to the role and responsibility of the Malaysia media in the early years of the 21st century.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman