The Home Affairs Ministry has refused to extend the permit of Makkal Ossai (‘Daily threatened racial harmony: Syed Hamid’, Malaysiakini, 17.04.2008). In the usual double speak that we have become so familiar with, we are told by the Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, that there is no question of the permit having been cancelled, it is merely not being extended.
Tell that to the employees of the newspaper who have suddenly found themselves facing unemployment. Explain to them how they are supposed to meet their financial commitments be they mortgages, car repayments or just food on the table. Glib sophistry is not going to be consoling them.
But, oh wait, that is the point, isn’t it? Force the editors through concern for their colleagues into becoming more Barisan friendly or at the least, Pakatan unfriendly. The nuances of the promise of an ‘appeal’ by the Minister resonate loud and clear.
In legal speak, we refer to such pressure as duress. But then, what else can one expect from a Ministry that is equally responsible for the implementation of the Internal Security Act.
The Minister says that the newspaper threatened racial harmony. He does not say how nor does he specify when. He appears to have adopted a very broad-brushed approach, one that could have equally resulted in the conclusion that the New Straits Times or the Berita Harian or the Utusan Malaysia or any other major daily had similarly threatened racial harmony at some point or other. The Minister after all does not specify that the threats arose from editorial pieces or from news reports or, if so, from style as opposed to content. He should recollect that, if one wants to stretch a point, we have been exposed by major dailies to content that could arguably be said to be racist or supremacist or divisive from time to time. The recent speech of Tengku Faris of Kelantan that raised many an eyebrow was dutifully reported by the major dailies as were the incredible speeches at the last two UMNO general assemblies.
Makkal Sakti does not deserve to be singled out. We have heard of no specific incident recently that created controversy, that shook the nation to its very core. The refusal of the renewal smacks of arbitrariness and has made victimis those who work for the newspaper.
Views are views. I think that is why it is called press freedom. And as for racial harmony, Malaysians are more mature than the government gives them credit for. That is why they voted the way they did. But perhaps, the seemingly continuing inability of the government to see that is the real problem.
The government says that it is pushing for reforms, that it made the mistake of overlooking the significance of alternative media. I find this hard to believe in the face of this kind of indifferent, callous, self-serving sort of conduct. If the government was sincere, Makkal Ossai would continue operating, its staff would not be facing the prospect of joblessness and we would not be having this discussion.
For any of you doubting the wisdom of having voted against the Barisan this last general election, keep in mind that with behaviour like this, there really is no other choice.