Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary- General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the DAP Human Rights Committee meeting at DAP PJ Hqrs on Friday, Sept 13.1985 at 8 p.m.
DAP calls for legislation to impose limit on the shares which a political party can own in a newspaper to over-come the threat to press freedom posed by political ‘ownership and control’
The formation of the DAP Human Rights Committee, under the chairmanship of Sdr. Karpal Singh, comes at a most critical, time in the history of human rights in Malaysia.
The arrest and prosecution of the Bar Council Vice President, Param Cumarawamy, who is also the Bar’s Human Rights Committee Chairman for sedition, could well mark a new era of suppression of human rights in Malaysia.
At this juncture, it is imperative that Malaysians who cherish human rights bind together to assert their demand that Malaysia should respect rather than violate human rights and should not be put in the dock of international opinion as a nation which has no regard for human rights.
As Malaysia professes parliamentary democracy, and had only recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Malaysian Parliament, Malaysia must be true and faithful to the democratic ideals and traditions.
Respect for human rights is a pre-condition of democracy, and I dare state without fear of contradiction that Malaysia cannot be democratic if th.re is no respect for human rights, if there is no press freedom or freedom of expression. This is why the arrest and prosecution of Parm Cumraswamy is so disturbing! Does this represent, not only a new anslaught on human rights in Malaysia, but a new attack on the very concept, practice and ideal of democracy as well?
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is organising a World Press Conference which would be opened by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed in Kuala Lumpur on Monday. This would be an appropriate occasion for an examination on the health of press freedom in Malaysia.
There is no doubt that press freedom in Malaysia had never been under great threat since the ‘liberal’ start of the Mahathir-Nusa government in 1981. In March this year, Datuk Seri. Mahathir Mohamed sad the government ‘had begun to rethink its ‘liberal’ policy on press freedom. Last year, a new Printing Presses and Publications Act was enacted, whilethe Official Secrets Act was amended which gave the government the greatest powers in Malaysia history to control the press.
These are all ominous developments to press freedom and freedom of expression, which must be chocked, if the Malaysian press, which is already under great control, is not to be further shackled and fettered.
The threat to press freedom in Malaysia come from many quarters, and one of tile latest threat stems from the ownership, control and management of newspapers by political parties, or companies owned directly or indirectly by political parties.
The National Union of Journalists had recognised the dangers of the ‘political control’ of the newspaper, when in its statement on March. 25, 1985, it said “Political control of the Press implies that editors and their journalists are responsible to those who exercise such control rather than to the accepted principles of the Prose. Such control must be reduced if not dissipated altogether.”
I hope that the World Press Conference organised by the NUJ next week would be able to formulate concreatc steps to reduce, if not to dissipate, such ‘political control’ of newspapers in Malaysia.
I further hope that the Prime Minister would take the occasion of opening the World Press Conference to give firm assurance of the government’s respect for press freedom and freedom of expression in Malaysia, and the dismantaling of the structures which had been built up all these years to restrict and curtail such freedoms.
Last month, it was reported that the government would impose limits on the shares ownership in banks and financial institutions that could be held by a single owner.
I would call for legislation to impose limit on the shares which a political party, whether directly or indirectly through directly-owned companies or thrust or nominee institutions, could own in a newspaper to protect press freedom and freedom of expression in Malaysia. There should also be legislation to control the number of newspaper, whether in the same language or of different language or of different language medium, which could be owned by a political party.
I note that in the World Press Conference, one of the guestspeakers will be Magsaysay-Award and Auditor-General, Tan Sri Ahamd Nordin, who will present a paper on ‘Public Accountability and the Right to Know’.
This is a most relevant subject, because unaccountability pervades Malaysian life, despite the 2M government pledge of a ‘clean, efficient and thrustworthy’ gadministraton.
The $2.5 billion Bumiputera Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal is the best example of the rampant public unaccountability in Malaysia, and the denial of the people’s right to know. A gathering of Malaysian journalists would be failing in its duty if it did not discuss how the BMF scandal does not become a press scandal as well!
Human rights is neither a luxury for Malaysian or for developing Third World countries. Respect for human rights is a pre-condition of democracy and the rule of law.
The first steps to dictatorship always starts with gradual suppress of human rights and individual liberties – infringement of the freedom of the press, prohibition of public meetings, trials behind closed doors, and so on – and once this process has started it becomes increasingly difficult to halt.
The DAP Human Rights Committee has a great responsibility to arouse the national consciousness about the importance of human rights and to sound the alarm when human rights are trampled upon. The DAP Human Rights Committee should be in the forefront in the defence of human rights in Malaysia.