The Sunday Star yesterday, in a report headlined
“Ministry displeased over reports on walk”, told its readers how
upset Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin was with a local English-language daily
for “reporting on the Bar Council’s plan to organise a ‘People’s
Freedom Walk’ on Dec 9 in conjunction with the World Human Rights
Day". According to the report, Zainuddin was
so unhappy that his ministry would “write an official letter to the
newspaper to ask it not to play up such news". He reportedly
lamented, “The newspaper gave details like the time to gather and
also encouraged the people to bring posters.” He added that such a
report could contribute to national disunity.
There must be a mistake to this Star
report as the content ran counter to the claim by de facto Law
Minister Nazri Aziz and Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin
during an Al Jazeera forum recently that Malaysia has a free
press. As we all know, a society that has press freedom usually does
not have government ministers, much less an ex-editor breathing down
the necks of senior editors of the mainstream media.
To be sure, a free press publishes
stories and views that not only please the government of the day, but
also conscientiously provides space for dissenting voices that it may
dislike. That, if we need reminding, is the nature of democracy.
theSun today confirmed that it was the target of Zainuddin’s criticism. Zainuddin was referring to the paper’s 29 November report on "The Walk", which, he complained, had promoted the event. He accused theSun of not being bothered about racial unity.
The 29 November report had quoted the Bar Council’s human rights committee chairman Edmund Bon, who provided details on the time and venue to gather for the walk and encouraged people to bring along banners on human rights issues.
Zainuddin’s reprimand of the paper is likely to mar
Malaysia’s image in the eyes of the international community.
More than that, what does it say of the mainstream dailies other than theSun?Was Zainuddin implying that the other
dailies had been an obedient, if not pliant, lot — almost to the
extent of behaving like domesticated poodles rather than the alert
watchdogs of the public interest that they are meant to be?
We are sure that these newspapers,
faced with such innuendos, would have the gumption, the moral fibre
and the required backbone to point out to the Minister his oversight
or better still, to register a public protest. But have they? will they?