by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Monday, 20th February 1995:
Is Megat’s two-week ultimatum to three Chinese newspapers because they had published articles undermining racial harmony or is it purely to shore up electoral support for the MCA and Gerakan in the coming general elections
I am shocked by the two-week ultimatum given by the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Megat Junid Megat Ayob, threatening to revoke the printing permits of three newspapers in Malaysia on the eve of the forthcoming general elections.
Megat said he had issued a meeting with chief editors of several strong warning newspapers at a recent meeting with chief editors of several newspapers.
Although Megat did not name the newspapers, it is clear that he is referring to three Chinese newspapers, especially as he had zeroed in on them when he said that these newspapers had permits for printing morning and night issues.
Megat said he had given these three newspapers two-week deadline to stop publishing articles which could undermine racial harmony in the country.
He said his Ministry had been monitoring several newspapers for almost a year and had collected the “mistakes” made which could undermine racial unity in the country.
He alleged that these newspapers had been “coming out with sensitive issues relating to racial harmony and those which undermined the government’s efforts in creating a multi-racial society” and said that they had been advised to “tread carefully on such issues”.
Megat’s threat to revoke the permits of three Chinese newspapers on the eve of the next general elections is most unprecedented, and Malaysians are reminded of the blame which MCA and Gerakan leaders had placed on Chinese newspapers for their failure to get Chinese electoral support after the 1990 general elections.
At that time, the Chinese newspapers were accused by the Barisan Nasional leaders, particularly from the MCA and Gerakan, as being anti-Barisan Nasional and pro-Opposition, and the main reason why the MCA and Gerakan could only get 20 to 25 per cent of Chinese electoral support.
This raises the question as to whether Mega’s two-week ultimatum to the three Chinese newspapers is because these newspapers had actually published articles undermining racial harmony in the country or is it purely to shore up electoral support for the MCA and Gerakan in the next general elections.
I have observed closely the development of the Malaysian press of all languages in the past three decades, and I do not believe that a case could be made against the Chinese newspapers for undermining racial and religious harmony in the country.
In fact, I believe that the Chinese newspapers would be even more sensitive than the other language newspapers in Malaysia to the multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious conditions in the country, although there had been lapses and oversights in this regard on the part of all language newspapers in the country.
I hope to meet Megat to find out how the Chinese newspapers had published articles undermining racial and religious harmony in Malaysia, for this is a very serious charge.
Do the MCA and Gerakan Ministers and leaders fully agree with the Ministry of Home Affairs that the Chinese newspapers had been so irresponsible and reckless of the national interest as to publish articles to undermine racial and religious harmony in the country, as to justify a two-week ultimatum with the threat of revocation of the newspaper permits?
Unless the Home Ministry can make up a strong case that the Chinese newspapers have been most irresponsible, reckless and utterly insensitive to racial and religious harmony in Malaysia, then Megat’s two-week warning to the three Chinese newspapers must be seen as the greatest threat to press freedom in the 1990s.
I am at a loss to understand why Megat should issue such a warning to the three Chinese newspapers at this stage.
This is because I do not believe that any MCA or Gerakan Minister or leader would publicly declare that anyone of the three Chinese newspapers concerned deserve to have their licence revoked for publishing articles undermining racial harmony although privately, there will be many MCA and Gerakan leaders who would want Chinese newspapers who give space and room for DAP news, statements and speeches to be banned completely.
What I find difficult to understand is why the MCA and Gerakan leaders, who regard the next general elections as a ‘walk-over’ for them and a catastrophe for the DAP, have become so desperate about the outcome of the next general elections that so drastic and unprecedented an action should be taken against the three Chinese newspapers before the general elections?
Megat Junid owes Malaysians an explanation whether his warning to the three Chinese newspapers is connected with the next general elections, in particular with MCA and Gerakan’s electoral prospects, and whether it signifies that the next general elections will definitely not be a ‘free, fair and clean’ one .