The Home Ministry’s denial of publishing permits for Malaysiakini and FZ Daily is a gross affront to the people’s democratic right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
The Ministry’s unjust and undemocratic action certainly doesn’t add any credibility to the government’s boastful claim that Malaysia is “the best democracy in the world”. If anything, it only makes a mockery of the government’s claim and reinforces public impression that the government is intent on curbing and denying freedom to Malaysians.
A thriving democracy must provide space for all kinds of publications that cater to the wide-ranging needs and concerns of the people from diverse ethnic, religious, political and cultural backgrounds in a multi-ethnic and multicultural setting such as Malaysia’s. If it is true that many newspapers would ‘confuse’ the populace, as the Home Minister insists, then surely a vast majority of people in, say, India, the Philippines, Indonesia and the United Kingdom would have been painfully confounded and bewildered by now because in these countries there are numerous newspapers.
Such purported concern about “the people getting confused” has increasingly become a popular refrain among the powers that be and serves as an excuse to censor or ban ideas – be they political, religious, economic or cultural – that expose the hypocrisy and shallow thinking of the leaders.
In providing another justification for the permit rejection, the Minister also claimed that the Malaysiakini and FZ news portals were inclined to be “controversial and sensational” in their attempt to attract readers – and this presumably could “confuse” Malaysians.
The government should have more confidence in the maturity and intelligence of ordinary Malaysians to discern sensational reporting from factual yet controversial journalism. If they had not been discerning, many would would not have been able, for instance, to recognise the sensationalist, racist and rabble-rousing nature of reporting in a certain Malay-language newspaper owned by the dominant ruling party. It is to the credit of thinking Malaysians that such ‘reporting’ has not succeeded in “confusing” them.
If the government was really serious and sincere about stamping out sensationalism, certain mainstream newspapers, racist writers and columnists would have earned the wrath of this supposedly concerned government a long time ago. They should have been hauled up – but they were not because they were spewing such venom apparently on behalf of the government.
Aliran therefore urges the government to rescind its decision to reject the permit applications of both publications so that the nation can move forward towards social transformation and greater democracy.
Dr Mustafa K Anuar
28 March 2014