Paper by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP secretary- General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, at the Seminar on the Mass Media held at the Selangor Chinese assembly Hall on July, 1990.
Before MCA Deputy President, Datuk Lee Kim Sai announced at the Subang airport on his return from Australia on July 4 that he was challenging Datuk Dr. Ling Liong Sik for the post of MCA President, there were weeks of intense build – up by the Kim Sai faction to prepare the ground to justify such a contest.
As the Ling Liong Sik faction was keeping a low profile at this period, the main press targets were inevitably MCA Secretary – General and Health Minister, Ng Cheng Kiat, and the two MCA Vice presidents and Deputy Ministers, Woon See Chin and Kok wee Kiat, who had declared their support for Kim Sai to challenge Liong Sik for the post of MCA President.
Last week, when a group of reporters crowded round Ng Cheng Kiat for his latest comments about the Ling-Lee fight, Cheng Kiat turned towards a reporter and asked which press he was from. When the reporter said he was from the Star, Cheng Kiat said there was no need for him to write anything as it would not be published.
If a MCA Minister and secretary-General could publicly say that the Star, a MCA – owed newspaper, would black out his news in the MCA power struggle because he was not aligned to the MCA power ‘establishment’, it is no wonder that the Star as well as other newspapers owned or controlled by Barisan Nasional component parties have made it a habit to black out Opposition and alternative views and opinions.
If a MCA Minister cannot expect press freedom and fair play from a MCA-owned paper during a MCA power struggle, what fairness can the opposition parties and dissent groups expect?
I understand for instance, that there is a standing instruction in the Star that before my name can see print, it must go up to the very highest level for clearance. The three words, Lim Kit Siang, are anathema in the Star. That is press freedom for the Opposition in Malaysia.
This does not apply only to the Star but to all mass media, whether printed or electronic, owned or controlled by the government or government parties.
It is not surprise therefore why there had been a recent spate of strong Oposition reactions to such biased mass media, such as the burning of the Utusan papers by PAS and the boycott of Utusan and the Fleet Group newspapers by Semangat 46.
The DAP also had our full of such biased and prejudiced press in the last 24 years of our history.
These biased and prejudiced press not only black out DAP news and views, but deliberately concoct false news. They are at their worst during or near general elections.
In the 1978 general elections, for instance, the New Straits Times carried on its front page on June 26 a full statement from the UMNO headquarters posing five questions to the DAP. These five questions must have been penned by some party hacks in the UMNO headquarters, and only the New Straits Times had the journalistic insight that they were of such earth – shattering importance to deserve full front – page treatment.
When I rang up the New Straits Times Group Editor, Tan Sri Lee Siew Yee, to ask him whether the News Straits Times would also publish the DAP’s reply in full and on the front page, Tan Sri Lee said; “ I am sorry. I do not discuss these things.”
Of course, Tan Sri Lee also would not have discussed “these things” with the UMNO and Nasional Front leaders, for they just take directives and implement orders from them.
In the event, the DAP’s reply to the UMNO’s ‘Five Questions’ on the front page of New Straits Times never saw print.
A most recent example of such biased and tendentious news management is the Star’s handling of my dispute with the MCA President, Datuk Dr. Ling Liong Sik, over the KSM-Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd. Investment Fund issue in March this year.
The Editor- in- Chief of Star, V.K.Chin, in his ‘comment’ column, did not make any real comment but retailed the half-truths, distortions, blatant bias and downright lies of the official MCA line.
I wrote a letter of protest to the Editor-in-Chief of Star on March 29, 1990, (see Appendix I) which was published after it was terribly slashed and sanitized two days later because I had ended my latter with the following provocative paragraph to V.K.Chin:
“I have very grave doubts that you would have the decency and the journalistic ethics to publish this letter as a reply to your column. Can I at least expect the courtesy of a reply by fax as to your decision not to publish this letter?”
However, the Star took the opportunity to publish a “Reply by V.K.Chin” to the sanitized version of my letter on the same editorial page. When I gave an immediate response to this ‘Reply by V.K.Chin’, (see Appendix II) it was blacked out.
On 11th April, I lodged official complaints to both the Malaysian Press Institute and the Organisation of newspaper Editors against the two MCA-owned newspapers, the Star and Tong Bao, for violation of the Malaysian Canons of Journalism. (See Appendix III)
I received a note two months from the Malaysian Press Institute acknowledging receipt of my latter, but there was no response whatsoever from the Organisation of Newspaper Editors.
This is a good example that the Malaysian newspapers cannot be expected to uphold journalistic ethics and standards, and that a Press Council constituted by Parliament, comprising representatives from the mass media as well as outside the media, is needed to protect journalistic ethnics and standards as well as the public interest.
Such biased and tendentious mass media treatment is even worse over the electronic media. Whether RTM One, Two or TV 3, they are united in utter disregards for the basic journalistic ethnics of fair reporting.
When the Gerakan President and the Primary Industry Minister, Datuk Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, told the lie about the DAP-PAS secret talks in Jakarta in April this year, it was given prominent treatment by both radio and television, but the denials by the DAP and our expose of Keng Yaik as a liar for making such an baseless allegation was blacked out completely.
The same applies to the frequent attacks by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, on the Opposition (even very personal ones) denying the Opposition parties and leaders attacked the right of a reply.
Recently, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, made the remarkable speech at a local journalists’ gathering that the fact that the newspapers support the Government does not mean that there is no press freedom in Malaysia. He argued that press freedom must include the right of the press to support the Government.
I argue, but press freedom must mean the right of the press to critirise and even appose the Government’s policies and measure, without having their license cancelled as happened to four newspapers during Operation Lalang in October 1987.
As a result of Operation Lalang, for instance, the Star became an emasculated shadow of its former self after it was allowed re-publication some six months later, and it has achieved the impossible of being even more revolting than the New Straits Times.
What Malaysia needs is greater awareness among Malaysians on their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, and the right to demand free press as an indispensable part of their democratic society.
The time has come for the formation of a Malaysian counterpart of the Index organization in other countries, which is specifically concerned with the human right of freedom of speech, expression and the press, just as the Amnesty International is specifically concerned with the liberty of the person, freedom detention without trial, torture and all forms of cruel and inhuman treatment.