Kadir should set example of “mindset change” for all Ministers by using his new responsibility as Information Minister to liberalise information flow instead of following the past undemocratic practices of his predecessors to block information access and stifle press freedom in Malaysia
by Lim Kit Siang
(Ipoh, Tuesday): The warning by the Information Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir in Kuala Terengganu yesterday that the media should not publish reports on racial issues as they can harm the prevailing unity and harmony in the country should set alarm bells ringing of a new threat to press and information freedom in the country.
There is actually nothing wrong or exceptional in Kadir’s statement, which is quite politically correct for a plural society like Malaysia, but for the considerable legitimate reservations about Kadir’s understanding and interpretation of what are “racial issues” and what constitute “harm to prevailing unity and harmony” in the country.
Kadir himself had been guilty of such misdeamenours and it is public record that he has still to withdraw and apologise for questioning and casting aspersion on the love, loyalty and patriotism of the Malaysian Chinese to the country when last year, as chairman of the National Day Celebrations organizing committee, he lambasted the community by mistakenly equating love of country with flag-waving.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in Temerloh on Saturday that changing the mindset of the people must be a national priority in order to achieve Malaysia’s aspirations to be a fully developed nation.
Stressing that the will to change must come from every Malaysian, Abdullah said: “We cannot become a nation that is really developed if there’s no change in the mindset. It’s easy to physically change the river’s course but not that easy to change how a person think.” He rightly advised leaders to “lead by example” as “when leaders do well, so will the people”.
This “mindset change” must start with the Cabinet Ministers. Kadir should set the example of “mindset change” for all Ministers by using his new responsibility as Information Minister to liberalise the flow of information in keeping with Malaysia’s aspirations to become an information society and a fully developed nation instead of following the past undemocratic practices of his predecessors to block information access and stifle press freedom in Malaysia.
Last week, Malaysia played host to the Asia Media Summit 2004, which was hyped as an “outstanding success” which “tackled some of the toughest challenges and dilemmas” facing the media from East and West. Malaysian “media practitioners” pontificate on subjects like Media and Islam, Media Ethics, Women in the Media, The Media and Terrorism and the Safety of Journalists, but none of them have anything to say about the most important subject in Malaysia and Asia – giving the people meaningful press freedom!
On Monday, May 3, 2004, the world will be commemorating the 14th World Press Freedom Day.
Five years ago, when Abdullah was first appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, there were high hopes that he would accord priority to restore public confidence in various key government institutions by giving the Home Ministry a human face, including loosening up and removing the press controls in the country to usher an era of free, fair and responsible press in Malaysia.
This was why on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 1999, some 600 journalists in Malaysia - which grew to over 1,000 journalists the following World Press Freedom Day 2000 - presented a memorandum to Abdullah calling for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and other repressive laws fettering the development of a free and responsible press.
Abdullah had given a solemn undertaking to the Malaysian journalists that he would give their memorandum serious consideration. What is the outcome of such serious consideration after six World Press Freedom Days from 1999 to 2004?
Malaysia should celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2004 in a more meaningful manner than just the holding of a forum to discuss issues concerning press freedom, good governance and democracy on May 6, although it would have the former deputy prime minister, Tan Sri Musa Hitam, as the keynote speaker.
As the new Information Minister, tasked with the challenge by the Prime Minister to “change mindset”, Kadir should get the clearance from the Cabinet meeting tomorrow to make policy announcements on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day 2004 on the government’s positive responses to the five-year-old memorandum by over a thousand Malaysian journalists on press freedom in Malaysia.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman & Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor