(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): On his return from his
visit to the United States, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad
criticised CNN of “dirty tactics” for not allowing him to give his views on
important issues regarding the country’s domestic affairs when he was
interviewed by the cable television news network’s Q&A programme towards
the end of his three-day visit to Washington last Friday.
He said the questions posed to him included statements by the
interviewer and were asked in such a way to make it appear as if he (Dr Mahathir)
agreed with the statements.
He said: "When they ask questions, they include a long statement first, accusing us of this and that, before asking the question. But the question has nothing to do with the statement and, in the end, it looks as if we agree with the statement.
is the dirty trick they used so as not to give me a chance to explain even
though they are the ones who wanted to interview me."
Mahathir said throughout the interview, the anchorwoman Zain Verjee talked more than he did.
"If you observe carefully, you will see that the
interviewers talk more. They give their views more than we get to give ours.
If they want to keep on giving their opinions, they should not bother
asking me questions."
These are very serious charges of unprofessional and even unethical
journalistic conduct against CNN, especially as the mainstream media, both print
and electronic, have in the past few days gone on a rampage to demonise CNN in
particular and the Western media as a whole.
However, if the charges made by Mahathir are true, that the Prime
Minister of Malaysia had been the victim of “CNN dirty tactics” and treated
shabbily, Malaysia’s national honour and dignity have been sullied and I will
be the first as a patriotic Malaysian to give Mahathir full moral support and
will speak out against the unprofessional and unethical journalistic practices
I did not watch the controversial CNN Q&A with Mahathir but I
have read the CNN “rush transcript – which may not be in its final form and
may be updated” of Mahathir’s “Q&A with Zain Verjee” which is on the
CNN website as well as the New Straits Times website (http://www.emedia.com.my/Current_News/NST/index_cache), and
I must confess that reading the transcript, I could not get any impression of
the “dirty tactics” which Mahathir had alleged against CNN.
I would suggest that all the three television channels of TV1, 2
and 3 should re-telecast Mahathir’s 30-minute interview on CNN’s Q&A
with Zain Verjee so that Malaysians can decide for themselves whether CNN had
been guilty of “dirty tactics”
against the Prime Minister– and Parliament at its meeting next month could
hold a special debate as to whether CNN had trampled on the national honour and
dignity in its “dirty tactics” in the Q&A and contemptuous treatment of
the Prime Minister.
Reading the CNN’s transcript, I could find no collaboration of
Mahathir’s charge of “dirty tactics” not to allow him to give his views,
as from the transcript, he was never stopped or cut off in giving his replies.
Mahathir described the CNN “dirty tactics” as: "When they
ask questions, they include a long statement first, accusing us of this and
that, before asking the question. But the question has nothing to do with the
statement and, in the end, it looks as if we agree with the statement.
This is the dirty trick they used so as not to give me a chance to
explain even though they are the ones who wanted to interview me."
The transcript does not seem to bear out Mahathir’s allegation of
CNN “dirty tactics” and this is why the three government televisions should
re-telecast the CNN interview.
It is clear from the transcript that the CNN anchorwoman did not
accord Mahathir the awe and worship he is accustomed from the local media, where
his utterances are regarded as words of wisdom which could not be challenged or
countered even though palpably untrue or are pure sophistry.
The CNN Q&A did not treat Mahathir with “kid-gloves”, but this
cut-and-thrust is the staple of CNN Q&As and applies to all interviewees,
from all countries East and West, big or small, and although there could be
questions as to its fairness, it does not constitute “dirty tactics” to shut
up Mahathir to prevent him from giving his views.
In fact, if Mahathir felt so strongly about the “dirty tactics”
of the CNN Q&A, he should have cut short the interview and staged a walkout
in protest, turning it into an international incident by striking the first blow
against the “Western media imperialism” the Malaysian Goebbels had railed
against during the recent World Press Freedom Day instead of meekly going
through with the interview and complaining only when he is back in Malaysia!
While Mahathir’s hurt feelings for not being accorded worshipful
attention during the CNN interview is understandable, can the Prime Minister
understand the outrage and anger of the Malaysian Opposition and civil society
at the blackout of all news of dissent by the mainstream Malaysian media –
which is completely and qualitatively different from the treatment he had
received from CNN!
Another charge laid against the CNN Q&A by Mahathir was that
the interviewer, Zain Verjee, talked more than him, which is again not borne out
by the transcript except for one occasion, when she had to give the background
about her question with rergard to two websites in Malaysia which show pictures
of Osama bin Laden and which post documents and articles signed by al-Qaeda as
well as show videos of the last moments of September 11 hijackers, saying that
they have 18 more videos.
Some of Mahathir’s answers and responses at the CNN Q&A were
most outrageous to say the least. For instance, in justifying the Internal
Security Act arrests without trial, Mahathir said: “We arrest people because
we want to know what they were doing and we have to rehabilitate them.
And these people, when they were arrested, not only confessed, they
actually boasted about their plans to overthrow the government by force of arms
and how they were going to.”
In the first place, the government had never been authorized by
Parliament under the ISA to “arrest people…to know what they were doing”,
but only when there is clear evidence that they are a national security threat.
When the Prime Minister could so misconstrue the ISA, after he had been
made even more draconian and repugnant to the rule of law through amendments
which exclude judicial review to check Ministerial excesses and abuses of power,
one can envisage the serious deterioration of human rights in Malaysia in the 21
years of his administration.
Secondly, if Mahathir
claims that the ISA detainees had “not only confessed, they actually boasted
about their plans to overthrow the government by force of arms and how they were
going to”, why weren’t they charged in court or at least a White Paper
tabled in Parliament to lay out all the evidence of their complicity in a
militant plot for the violent overthrow of the elected government?
In any event, who are these
ISA detainees Mahathir was referring to, who had “confessed” and
“boasted” about their conspiracy for the violent overthrow of the
government? Was he referring to the
reformasi six detained under the ISA – namely Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor,
Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam?
Mahathir is not prepared to name names, he should withdraw the statement
unreservedly as such a blanket allegation constitutes a grave defamation of the
character and good name of the six ISA reformasi activists.