by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday, November 7, 1995:
DAP calls for a National information Policy with the objective to restore press freedom by giving full meaning to Article 10 of the Malaysian Constitution on “freedom of speech and expression”
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information, Datuk Mohd, Shafie Apdal had not given a proper and satisfactory answer to my question in parliament yesterday about the National information Policy draft.
Mohd. Shafie said the National Information Policy draft could not be finalized as expected in 1992 due to rapid changes in Information Technology (IT) and that the special panel chaired by Tan Sri Samad Ismail had to consider several panel chaired by Tan Sri Samad Ismail had to consider several developments, like the information superhighway, cyberspace and the need to establish a body known as the media council to regulate media activities in the country.
It is very unsatisfactory that the new amendments to the Parliamentary Standing Orders curtailing the freedom of MPs to ask supplementary questions have made it virtually impossible for MPs to scrutinise and expose unsatisfactory answer by government front-benchers who give half-truths and misleading information during question time.
For instance, Mohd. Shafie failed to inform Parliament that in February 1993, the Information Minister, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat had announced that the National Information Policy draft would ready in June 1993.
When June 1993 came, Mohamed Rahmat said the draft was expected to be completed by September 1993 and that it would be submitted to the Cabinet for approval by the end of the year.
The draft was submitted to the Information Ministry at the end of 1993, and in April 194, Mohamed Rahmat said publicly that the National information Policy draft would be submitted to the Cabinet in June 1994, as his officers had been given six months to study the draft.
This deadline was again disregarded, and in April 1995, Mohamed Rahmat said the government was still considering the proposal in the draft National Information Policy submitted by the Tan Sri Samad Ismail special panel to set up a Malaysian Media Council to monitor the media and “ensure press freedom” in the country.
Thus, when Mohd. Shafie told parliament yesterday that the special panel had to consider “new things” like the proposal to set a Malaysian media council, this was making a mockery of parliament – for the special panel had already made such a proposal and it was the Information Ministry which had not been able to make up its mind on the matter after close to two years!
It is also clear that the special panel purportedly to deal with the issues of “press freedom” of print and electronic media is not the proper forum with the requisite expertise and background to deal with issues raised by an information technology revolution, which should be dealt with by a special committee on the larger question of developing a National Information Infrastructure (NII).
In this connection, there should be a clear directive to the Tan Sri Samad Ismail special panel that in reviewing its draft National Information Policy, its emphasis should be to restore press freedom by giving full meaning to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 10 of the federal constitution and not impose new restrictions on a very tettered press in Malaysia.
Let us be brave to admit that press freedom is one of the “blots” in Malaysian democracy, with the electronic media even more unfree and biased than the print media, and that such a stunted plant urgently requires are and space to reach greater maturity – without which Malaysia cannot achieve the Vision 2020 as espoused by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed or develop the civil society which had been the constant theme of the deputy Prime minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The question therefore is whether the proposed National Information Policy is going to be a new charter for press freedom in Malaysia, loosening all the restrictive press controls, or it is going operate like a Press Censorship Board!