The scalping of Abdullah Ahmad intersects four issues: calibre of leadership of Abdullah Badawi, UMNO power politics, press freedom and Malaysia’s stand on the role of Islam in modern world particularly in countries such as Saudi Arabia
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said that the sacking of Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad as New Straits Times group editor-in-chief had nothing to do with personal or internal politics but was because of the protests received by Wisma Putra from the Arab Saudi government over the latter’s article, “Freeing the Prophet’s Land” in NST on November 12 which created problems between the two governments.
Very few will believe that the scalping of Abdullah Ahmad was because of his article on Saudi Arabia, as this was not the NST’s first article about the “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” rule of the House of Saud, and it is an open secret that Abdullah’s views were shared by many top UMNO leaders in government, though not expressed publicly.
Abdullah’s article on Saudi Arabia however created the opportunity for his sacking, which intersected four issues: the caliber of leadership of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, UMNO power politics, press freedom and Malaysia’s stand on the role of Islam in the modern world, particularly in countries like Saudi Arabia.
What should be of immediate public concern, however, is how the new Prime Minister’s exercise of the powers of hire and fire of the editor-in-chief of a major media group in the country tallies with his refreshing call to the people to tell him the truth – as it highlights the dismal state of the media in the country, with the whole paraphernalia of media controls and fetters completely untouched, whether through draconian laws or undemocratic press ownership by ruling political parties.
With the summary sacking of the NST editor-in-chief for whatever reason, the onus is firmly on the new Prime Minister to demonstrate how he proposes to restore press freedom, not only to allow NST but all media, both printed and electronic, to blaze the path to become a free, responsible and independent press and lift the country from the deplorable ranking of 104th position in the latest worldwide press freedom index of Reporters sans frontiers (Reporters Without Borders).
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman