The denial of publishing permits for Suara Keadilan and Harakah robs ordinary Malaysians of their democratic right to information from a broad spectrum of the political parties in the country, observes Mustafa Kamal Anuar.
Malaysia’s Home Ministry recently has denied the party organs of Pas and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Harakah and Suara Keadilan, their respective publishing permits. This effectively means that the political parties have been muzzled by the BN government.
The Home Minister’s action, which is provided for under the omnipotent Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), has serious implications: it deprives the two political parties of an important medium to communicate with their members and the wider public.
Like other political parties such as Umno, MCA and MIC, both PAS and PKR have the democratic right to spread their respective ideologies, ideas and policy statements to the general public. The party organs are crucial to the parties concerned given that opposition parties in Malaysia generally are often not given enough space by the mainstream media, which are largely owned by the ruling group. As many are aware, even if opposition politicians and parties do appear in the mainstream media, they often are depicted in a negative light, such as squabbling partners in the Pakatan Rakyat – as if there is no friction or tension within the ruling BN coalition.
This permit denial has another grim implication: ordinary Malaysians are robbed of their democratic right to have access to information about and ideas from a broad spectrum of the political parties that exist in the country. To be sure, Malaysians have the right to make an informed choice when it comes to voting a political party into power.
Moreover, the affected party organs are not given the right to defend themselves in the face of accusations that they have made editorial or journalistic errors. If it is true that they indeed have made a mistake (such as defamation), they then should be brought to court where truth and justice can be achieved.
It patently doesn’t serve justice and democracy when party organs have been bludgeoned by the Home Minister via the refusal of publishing permit for a matter or issue that requires a settlement in court. This also lends credence to the suspicion that the BN government doesn’t take kindly to criticism from various quarters in society despite its purported willingness to listen to the rakyat.
Even if it is true, as alleged by certain observers, that the Home Ministry takes a bit of time to process the renewal of publishing permit, it is nonetheless tantamount to unnecessary political intimidation of publications that are perceived to be critical of the powers-that-be. Indeed, to publish should be a matter of right in a democracy.
An important lesson from this sordid episode is that the PPPA is archaic and irrelevant to modern times, and a nagging insult to intellectual decency, democracy and justice.
Mustafa Kamal Anuar is assistant secretary of Aliran and joint coordinator of Charter 2000-Aliran.