By Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, MP for Tanjung and Assemblymen for Kampong Kolum, Lim Kit Siang, in Penang on Tuesday, 2.9.1986:
Call on Government to give an assurance that it would not proceed with its proposal to amend the Official Secrets Act to impose amendatory one-year jail sentence for all offences under the Act when Parliament re-opens in October.
I find the National Day message of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Mahathir Mohamed, disturbing in many respects.
For instance, Dr. Mahathir had said that Malaysians must not use the freedom of the press, “supposedly to exist in the West, to assess our mass media”.
It was none other than the Prime Minister who had asked what was wrong if the Malaysian newspapers become government gazettes. There are of course many reasons why it will be very wrong if the newspapers in the country and up as government gazettes, but this could be left to another occasion.
I want to focus on Dr. Mahathir’s remark in his National Day Message, and stressed that we want press freedom in Malaysia, not because we want to ape the West, but because freedom of expression, information and the press are the hallmarks of whether we have a free and democratic society.
As a country which have become the conjunction point of the various greet civilizations, religious and cultures in Asia and the world, Malaysians need not be ashamed to draw the best from any where in the world, be it East or West.
The question Malaysians should address, is not whether we should emulate the press freedom in the Best, but why we should not be entitled to press freedom where the people are fully and fairly informed of developments, viewpoints and trends in the country.
There is over the years growing trend towards greater repression of information and the cult of government secrecy, as if the BMF scandal, the EPF scandal, the Maminco Scandal, the Panl El Scandal, the Multi-Purpose Scandal, the Co-operative Finance scandal, are more tips of the ice-bergs.
Let no declare here that if there are government scandals and corruption, it is the right of the people to know their full details, and for the government to report them. Unfortunately, the Malaysian press have been very shy of investigative reporting, for fear that they would stumble on scandals which would compromise the government political leadership. In Malaysia, the press have to establish that it has a separate national duty to perfume, which is different and may at times conflict with those of the government.
I call on the Barisan Nasional Government to give an assurance that it will respect the concept of an open and accountable government, and that it would not proceed to amend the Official Secret Act to impose a mandatory one-year jail sentence for all offences under the Act when Parliament re-opens in October.
Any amendment of the Official Secret Act to make it more craconiun, repressive and undemocratic will only permit corruption, graft, and breach of trust and abuse of authority to become more rampant in public and political life.