Tun Abdullah Badawi on Taming Utusan Malaysia

August 7, 2013

Tun Abdullah Badawi on Taming Utusan Malaysia

Badawi ed Bridget Welsh

In The Awakening about his years in power, former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi makes a startling revelation about how he dealt with Utusan Malaysia, in stark contrast to how the strident newspaper is managed by its UMNO backers now. Abdullah was known for liberalising news media in an attempt to restore their credibility after the severe damage that mainstream media took under the Mahathir years, but Abdullah still kept a firm line on racial and religious issues.


Referring to his appointees, he said, “I did not interfere with their work as I believed that they had a professional job to do and I allowed them the space to do it. But when they abused the openness by playing up racial and religious issues, like when Utusan Malaysia did, then I would call them and warn them.”

He revealed that he made a phone call to the editor-in-chief of Utusan Malaysia and left him with a stark warning: the newspaper had crossed the boundary with an editorial that smacked of racism and he should expect no favours from Putrajaya if charged with sedition.

As it turned out, the Police did not come a-calling and the editor escaped any sanction. But Abdullah said that phone call put the fear of God into the newspaperman and, after that, there were no more offensive articles from the UMNO-owned paper.

Such control apparently no longer exists over the newspaper that has since lost a bunch of defamation cases to opposition members and has even been ticked off in the courtroom for not following journalistic standards.

In reply to a question from the editors of the book on how much control UMNO has over Utusan Malaysia now, the former leader replied, “Now, I don’t think there’s any control anymore.”

Malaysian academic and Professor James Chin – who edited the book with Dr Bridget Welsh – followed up, noting that these days it appears the UMNO President says one thing and Utusan publishes something else the next day. Abdullah responded, “That’s why I said I don’t think there’s any control anymore.”

When he was the Prime Minister, he gave the media more space, noting kalimullah-hassanthat he appointed Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan as the Editor-in-Chief of New Straits Times. With Kalimullah at the helm, the newspaper was critical of Umno and at times, of Abdullah’s leadership itself.

“Some of my Supreme Council members were unhappy with him and wanted me to remove him. But during his time, the newspapers within the group became profitable and sales increased. They had credibility,” said Abdullah, noting that sales at the NST had since dropped significantly.

It was the same situation at TV3, where the viewership of the primetime news programme grew under the stewardship of Datuk Kamarulzaman Zainal, Abdullah’s former Press Secretary.

Still, he noted that many in UMNO were not pleased with the era of openness and blamed BN’s poor results in 2008 on Abdullah’s decision to allow more discourse on issues.

“The openness did not happen by chance. I wanted it that way. Unfortunately, my detractors – particularly those seeking to keep the old ways and who resisted the change – interpreted it as a sign of weakness,” he said in the book titled, “Awakening: The Abdullah Badawi Years in Malaysia”.

25 thoughts on “Tun Abdullah Badawi on Taming Utusan Malaysia

  1. Can’t wait to get the book. More shit within UMNO and the government then being made public. Bet there are red faces in many places.

  2. Abdullah Badawi had won an almost unprecedented election poll mandate for three main reasons:

    1. The people were simply tired of the long, authoritarian Mahathir regime,
    2. Abdullah ran as Mr. Clean, and pledged to clean up the cronyism and corruption in government, and
    3. He awakened the people’s hopes and yearnings for a new, clean country, a shining city on a hill.

    He failed completely to deliver. Indeed, things got even worse with his cronies, his son, and son in law. This has been common knowledge.

    Malaysians are more educated and a lot smarter today, while many politicians are still trapped in the mind-set of the1960s. If his book is to have an iota of credibility, Badawi should bare his soul on this central issue. That will gain him a new patina of respectability. Not distractions with minor side issues like his dealings with Utusan, or the ridiculous claim that a “freer” media had caused his downfall.

    No. It was his own hollow convictions, sanctimonious and inept policies, and the unmatched vitriol of his former mentor, that brought him crashing down.

  3. ABDULLAH was a much loved premier but unfortunately Mahathir thought otherwise. I still think he is a very matured man

  4. The “Awakening” – what an appropraiate title indeed. Pak Lah was accused by Tun Mahathir of “sleeping on the job while at the helm of his half-past six Administration”. Now he is “awake” to respond to those accusations.

    “The openness did not happen by chance. I wanted it that way…….”, Pak Lah said. But the openness was not “really free” and without control as Pak Lah readily admitted that “…he made a phone call to the editor-in-chief of Utusan Malaysia and left him with a stark warning: the newspaper had crossed the boundary with an editorial that smacked of racism and he should expect no favours from Putrajaya if charged with sedition.” But he further said, “Now, I don’t think there’s any control anymore.”
    Conclusion – at last, a real media freedom, with no political interference from the political party owner, is finally enjoyed by the UMNO-owned mass media subject only to possibility of suits from dissatisfied parties. Press freedom???

  5. Now after reading the snipets from Pak Lah, I do now sincerely apologies to him for calling him names during his tenure, perhaps he could have said it much2 earlier, before GE13 would have been great, I thought, well it’s water under the bridge now. respect Pak Lah,

  6. As Malaysians, we should honor the former Premier for being honest and frank. He obviously did his best under difficult circumstance.

  7. thank you ,Tun Badawi for telling us your sides of the polittcal history of our beloved country Malaysia.I wish you well in your golden years,beg for forgivesness if i happen to do you wrongs.

  8. I too made a lot of negative comments on Tun AAB but, that was more because he won the biggest ever mandate from the rakyat and was in an excellent and solid position to bring about changes which the rakyat voted him for.

    Alas, he squandered the rakyats’ goodwill, drifted on with no meaningful direction and leadership for the country and had to eventually be told to step down and leave the administration akin to a military dishonourable discharge.

  9. I couldnt agree with DC more. I was very close to him for many years, in fact if he had been more competent and robust as PM Dr M couldnt touch him. We had high hopes and expectations after 2004 that we became very disappointed.

  10. I am not taken in by his memoirs. Politician write memoirs to exonerate themselves of blame and project a “holy image” of themselves or to cover up their wrong doings and failures.
    His biggest failure was to reappoint Mahathir’s henchmen, political discards, and good-for-nothing men into his Cabinet. That’s how the rot started.
    He should have taken on Mahathir head-on and put him in place. Instead he allowed Mahathir to trample all over him.
    It was during his tenure Teresa Kok was detained under the ISA and he did nothing about it?
    He should have fired the IGP?

  11. Fondly known as Pak Lah, he is good hearted man. Sadly sometimes people tend to take it as a weakness, rather than strength, if a PM with so much power, was conscious of tendencies towards Abuses, some did not appreciate it.
    One thing so honourable with him, with the support of Zaid Ibrahim then a Minister, they both did the most honourable thing : THE VINDICATION OF TUN SALLEH ABBAS and several other honourable Judges.
    That will go down in the annals of history as an accomplishment…..Best of Luck, Pak Lah

  12. Ahmad and DC.
    Pak Lah not smart and cleaver as politican.
    I work with him when he was Penang UMNO Laison Chief.
    He become PM beause the BTN mechinery behind him.People like Aziz Shamsuddin,Shagul Hamid and all the SB and intelligent officer.
    In fact they are the main force that buried Anwar.

    Nothing new from his book.

  13. Just waiting for the launch for the book. I feel sad for Tun badawi and for Malaysia he initiated govt reforms. to day the improvements in civil services in many govt depts was due to him. Big investments in kulim high tech park was his initiative. So are investments other sectors n areas. Umno war lords messed him and the country. Generations to come we will see the consequences of the nation building advocated by umno and the brilliant policies and of course the double talk

    • “What a twist from Alialfafa! Real press freedom?” — @MT Lai at 8:21pm.

      What “twist” are you talking about when I merely quoted the the relevant portions of the article verbatim? People read in the way they want to read and see the “half-filled” glass differently from their own viewpoints.

  14. What a twist from Alialfafa! Real press freedom? Nowhere. I guess what he meant is newspapers like Utusan is running riots which could lead to very serious consequences. Pak Lah did squandered the largest mandate. I guess his hands were tied and he was overwhelmed by the leftover from his previous boss. If he did give his blessing do you think the Port Klang scandal will go court? By the way someone gas sought to clarify that the book is not the work of Pak Lah. It is rather a collection of articles plus an interview by the editors.

  15. I thought Hans Christien Anderson died a long time ago ! Dollah was an incompetent leader . He failed to show leadership during critical times . He maintained an ” elegant silence ” ! The people were utterly disappointed ! Under his watch he failed to resolve the ‘ cow head incident ‘, arrested Theresa Kok and bungled the ‘crooked bridge ‘ incident, which cost the tax payer more than Rm 300 million with nothing to show ! This is just a white wash to clear his name ! He was a big disappointment !

  16. The timing of the book is very curious, i.e. just before the next
    UMNO Baru General Assembly.

    Is the book meant to defend his SIL’s shaky position in UMNO Baru?
    Is it also a warning shot to Mahathir and the Mahathirists that
    ABB can always expose more dirt on them unless they keep their distance
    from the SIL?

    With all due respect to the two political scientists (Bridget Welsh and James Chin) who edited the book, I think they have been used by this politician to give the (self-serving?) memoirs a certain degree of respectability
    that it may not actually deserve.

  17. Dear Tun Pak Lah,

    Indeed a good book to yak about during Raya besok.
    May you and your family enjoy a much blessed Raya.
    May you also live longer than Mahathir.
    May your book give Mahathir the pain he needs to be AWAKEN.

  18. Pak Lah , the Gorbachev of Malaysia, did many changes like sorting out the slow and arrogant Immigration Department.. Some changes that directly pissed off mr Kutyy was the beginning of his downfall. Not corruption on the 17 or the 7 th floor (corruption is constant in our scenario) but the wrath of Kutyy and his cronies became his stumbling block. I wonder why he did not fight enough, either his personal loss or the new gin could have had an impact. Being a mister Nice and Clean guy does not work in Malaysia. Anyway I think his tenure we had a fresh breath of air. Tk Pak Lah.

  19. This book is written 5 years too late. Should have been written before GE12 and he should have taken on Tun Mahathir directly. Now it seems like a book of excuses why he failed and also to give some kind of “protection” to “my Khairy”… If I have a budget for only for one book, I will pick Lee Kuan Yew’s book…

  20. The truth is Badawi got it right in broad policies. His fall has nothing to do with his big ideas. His failure really is in execution. He classically is someone who got the big picture but can’t see it through. In fact, he did not really have a real plan to do the ideas..

    Najib thought that so long as he focus on a executable plan without dealing with the big issues, he would not end up like Badawi. Najib may be PM for longer than Badawi but in the end he will be a much bigger failure because he will not be remembered for policies and the big picture..

  21. Well the Kerala guy today said “no comment” on this book and that LKY is old and should be forgiven, asking Malaysians to also forgive him as he is now 88.What bullshit. Forgive him for the total destruction of the whole social fabric of this country? “No comment” as he now needs time to come up with a “convincing” spin.Pak Lah should prepare for this and come out strongly to spill out much more with no fear.The Rakyat will be with him on this.

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