Charter 2000-Aliran takes Makkal Osai to task for not having exercised greater prudence in ensuring that what is published does not demean what others hold as sacred and sensitive. To publish a picture of Jesus Christ purportedly holding a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other hand on its front page (21 August 2007) was irresponsible and reprehensible.
But to its credit, Makkal Osai, on discovering its mistake carried front-page apologies for two consecutive days to assure the Christian community of this country that it was a genuine oversight.
The Roman Catholic Church has accepted the apology while the secretary-general of the Christian Council of Church has acknowleged that the paper has proven that it had no ill-intent. More than that, a delegation from the daily also met with Archbishop Murphy Pakiam to explain the mistake and the archbishop has accepted its apology. By all accounts, the matter was settled amicably and it should have been laid to rest.
But other forces were at work stoking the fire for their own political advantage. And what is disturbing is the fact the Internal Security Ministry had come into the picture, as it were, to give a helping hand to these forces. How else could one justify their involvement and the punishment imposed on Makkal Osai?
The one-month suspension imposed on the daily has even shocked and disturbed the Christian community and the inter-religious council. If any individual or community is aggrieved by the actions of a newspaper, they should be allowed to register their unhappiness and hurt directly with the newspaper management concerned as opposed to urging the Internal Security Ministry to intervene on their behalf. If they take the latter route, they could inadvertently legitimise state interference in the affairs of a newspaper’s editorial management and facilitate the erosion of press freedom.
In this case, the government's action has been described as drastic and even perplexing by the very people who have a right to be offended. It was morally wrong for the government to get involved in what has also been perceived to be a dispute between two rival dailies – one aligned to MIC president Samy Vellu and the other to his arch rival, former deputy MIC president S Subramaniam.
There have been no reports of public demonstration by offended Christian communities demanding drastic action to be taken against the daily. So why did the Ministry of Internal Security act so swiftly? If they were motivated by a genuine concern to preserve national unity and harmony, if the action was intended to be a deterrent for the future, then where was similar concern and action when a mob was instigated and incited to confront a church in Ipoh not too long ago?
Dr Mustafa K Anuar & Anil Netto
Coordinators, Charter 2000-Aliran
27 August 2007