Abdullah should send a clear signal to the media, both electronic and printed, that his call to tell the truth applies to everyone and the press should be free and fair to all different views to allow the truth to emerge
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): DAP welcomes the clarification by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday that his call to tell the truth was not limited to political leaders but applies to everyone.
He told the press after his budget presentation to the Dewan Negara yesterday that the public should also give accurate information if they hoped their leaders would respond to their problems, as “wrong information and wrong intelligence will result in wrong responses”.
Abdullah’s call to Barisan Nasional leaders and now the people to tell him the truth has come like a “breath of fresh air” for the simple reason that unpleasant truths had not been allowed to surface publicly, let alone to reach the ears of the top leadership in government, because of the “culture of silence” practised at the top echelons of the government.
The seriousness of this “culture of silence”, buttressed by the “cult of secrecy”, is best exemplified by the deplorable state of press freedom in the country.
In the second worldwide press freedom index of Reporters sans frontiers (Reporters Without Borders) released last month, Malaysia was placed 104th out of 166 countries - firmly at the bottom half of the countries surveyed.
The two indices for Malaysia, 104th ranking in the Rsf press freedom index 2003 and 37th ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2003, are indications of the great distance the country must traverse if Malaysia is to become a truly developed nation and acquire the “first-world mentality” to match some of its “first-world infrastructures” such as having the tallest twin towers in the world, the ultra-modern international airport and the most grandious Putrajaya administrative capital complex.
As there is general wondering and even skepticism as to the meaning of his call, Abdullah should send a clear signal to the media, both electronic and printed, that his call to tell the truth applies to everyone and that the press should be free and fair to all different views to allow the truth to emerge, starting with radio and television broadcasting. Abdullah must make his position unmistakably clear that he wants to see “hundred flowers bloom, and thousand schools of thought contend” to replace the status quo of “one voice” in the official and mainstream media, whether printed or electronic.
Abdullah is right when he said at a TV1 interview that he had passed the test of his first week as the new Prime Minister of Malaysia, as public perceptions had been generally positive.
There had been blotches, however, even in his first week, as for instance in his handling of the multi-billion ringgit double tracking rail award and the refusal to return the passport to human rights activist Irene Fernandez to go overseas to attend human rights conferences during her appeal against conviction and one-year jail sentence for publishing “false news” – and these must be acknowledged by Abdullah if he is not to repeat the mistakes of not allowing the “truth” to be told to the high and mighty.
Although Abdullah has passed the test of his first week in office, this is only at the level of public perceptions – for in the coming weeks, people would expect to see results to confirm the correctness of their first-week perceptions of the new Prime Minister.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman