WELL Done, Jim, you have earned your Badge of COURAGE FOR CNN


November 9, 2018

WELL Done, Jim, you have earned your Badge of COURAGE FOR CNN

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Bars CNN’s Acosta From the White House” (Election 2018 section, Nov. 8):

The revocation of Jim Acosta’s press credentials by the White House is the act of a banana republic dictatorship. To deny press credentials to a well-known, legitimate reporter for no other reason than that the President doesn’t like his questions is unprecedented in the United States and reveals the autocratic intentions of President Donald J Trump.

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This action must not pass unnoticed in the chaotic swirl of events unleashed by President Trump. Members of Congress, the rest of the press and the American people themselves must stand up against this abuse of executive power.

Tim Shaw
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

This attack on an independent press needs to be answered not just by condemnation but also by collective action. The Times and other mainstream media should all turn in their White House press credentials and refuse to enter the White House until Jim Acosta’s credentials are restored. Starved of the attention he constantly seeks, President Trump will likely retreat. In any case, losing White House access is preferable to allowing an authoritarian president to decide who gets to cover him.

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Stephen Hart
Buffalo

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Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. It is an unacceptable act of tyranny


October 23, 2018

Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. “It is an unacceptable act of Tyranny”

by Bernama

The Face of an Arab Tyrant  

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has described the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi as an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny.

He said Malaysia does not support the killings of government critics. “We all have someone we dislike, but we cannot simply kill him because we don’t like him. I used to be hated by many, and if we have the same system like Saudi Arabia’s, I probably won’t be here talking to you today.

“Alhamdulillah, we don’t see such acts of tyranny here in our country,” he said at the “Bicara Minda Bersama Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad” talk moderated by veteran journalist Johan Jaafar at Dewan Karangkraf in Shah Alam yesterday.

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The Prime Minister said this when asked about Malaysia’s stand pertaining to the murder of the journalist. Last Saturday, Saudi Press Agency reported that Saudi Arabia had admitted that Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul.

The report stated that the discussions allegedly held between the Washington Post columnist and those he met in the consulate had turned into a fight which led to his death.

Following Khashoggi’s death, the international community began to put pressure on Saudi Arabia. Several countries have pulled out of the Saudi investment summit in Riyadh.

– Bernama

Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Words—for Other Journalists Like Him


October 20, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Words—for Other Journalists Like Him

On October 3rd, the day after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, the Washington Post received a final column left behind with his assistant when he went off to Turkey to get married. It was, in seven hundred words, poignant and personal and epically appropriate, considering his fate. “The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries,” he opined. “They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information.” Instead, rulers grew ever more repressive after the short-lived Arab Spring.

Today, hundreds of millions of people across the Middle East “are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives,” Khashoggi wrote. They are either “uninformed or misinformed” by draconian censorship and fake state narratives. As the headline of his last published words asserted, “What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”

In his death, Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and former government supporter who became a vocal and fearless critic of the current Saudi crown prince, has galvanized global attention far more than he was able to do during his life. The horrific details of his murder and dismemberment have had an effect he would never have imagined—putting into serious question the fate of a Saudi leader, the state of U.S.-Saudi relations, American foreign-policy goals in the world’s most volatile region, and even policies that have kept dictators in power. The repercussions are only beginning.

But Khashoggi was hardly a lone voice decrying political repression in the Middle East, as he acknowledged in his final Post column. Saudi Arabia may be the most cruel and ruthless government in the region, but it uses tactics embraced by dictators, sheikhs, and Presidents across twenty-two countries.

In 2014, Egypt’s military-dominated government seized all print copies of the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, whose name means “The Egyptian Today.” Al-Masry Al-Youm is that rare private newspaper in the Arab world where young reporters once dared to question government policies in hard-hitting editorials and groundbreaking journalism. “The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,” Khashoggi wrote. “Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”

The world, particularly the West, is partly culpable for looking the other way, he wrote. It is a tragic irony that the world is paying attention to Khashoggi’s death, yet still not making an issue of a sweeping problem that could determine the future of a region of twenty-two countries and four hundred million people. On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, announced that he would not attend the Saudi investment conference known as “Davos in the Desert,” which is pivotal to the crown prince’s plans to modernize the kingdom’s oil-reliant economy. The British trade minister, the French and Dutch finance ministers, and the president of the International Monetary Fund also backed out after Khashoggi’s disappearance. But no foreign government is addressing the broader political practices in any other country, or any other case, in the region.

In his column, Khashoggi drew attention to imprisoned colleagues who receive no coverage. “My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press,” Khashoggi noted. “He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment.” Shehi, who had more than a million followers on Twitter, was charged with “insulting the royal court” for his statements about widespread government corruption in his columns for the newspaper Al Watan and on a local television program.

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Michael Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House and a former national editor at the Washington Post, told me that Khashoggi rightly identified the broader stakes. “Khashoggi’s final column accurately pinpointed the appalling lack of political rights and civil liberties in much of the Arab world, especially the right to freely express oneself,” he said. Khashoggi began his last piece by citing Freedom House’s 2018 report—and the fact that only one Arab country, Tunisia, is ranked as “free.” Abramowitz told me, “What is especially sad is that, while we are properly focussed on the outrageous actions by the Saudi government to silence one critic, we must also remember that countless other bloggers, journalists, and writers have been jailed, censored, physically threatened, and even murdered—with little notice from the rest of the world. And, in some cases, notably Egypt, conditions have deteriorated.”

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In the Gulf states, Human Rights Watch chronicled a hundred and forty cases—a number chosen based on the original character limit on Twitter, though there are actually many, many more—where governments have silenced peaceful critics simply for their online activism. Among the most famous is Raif Badawi, a young Saudi blogger who ran a Web site called the Saudi Liberal Network that dared to discuss the country’s rigid Islamic restrictions on culture. One post mocked the prohibition against observing Valentine’s Day, which, like all non-Muslim holidays, is banned in Saudi Arabia. In 2014, he was sentenced to ten years in prison, a thousand lashes, and a fine that exceeded a quarter million dollars. (I wrote about his case in 2015.)

Badawi’s sister Samar—who received the 2012 International Women of Courage Award at a White House ceremony hosted by Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—was arrested in July. When the Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted her concern about the Badawi siblings, in August, the kingdom responded by expelling the Canadian Ambassador, recalling its envoy, freezing all new trade and investment, suspending flights by the state airline to Toronto, and ordering thousands of Saudi students to leave Canada. (I wrote about the episode that month.)

In Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab, one of the Arab world’s most prominent human-rights advocates, is languishing in jail after being sentenced to five years for tweeting about torture in the tiny sheikhdom and criticizing Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Mansoor, who ran a Web site focused on reforms, was sentenced to ten years for social-media comments calling for reform.

“The Arab people are desperate for real news and information, and Arab governments are desperately trying to make sure they never get that,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told me. “Uncensored communication on social media promised journalists and writers in the Middle East the greatest hope to freely exchange ideas and information, but it’s also why Arab governments, so terrified of the voices of their own citizens, rushed to pass laws criminalizing online communications and jailing writers and activists for mere tweets.”

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The wider world bought into the Saudi narrative that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de-facto ruler, was intent on opening up the kingdom. Perhaps tellingly, it is the free press elsewhere in the world that first asked questions about Khashoggi’s October 2nd disappearance, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to get papers so he could marry. “The world should take note that it is the free press, not the Saudi government or the White House, that has doggedly searched for the truth about what happened to Mr. Khashoggi,” the Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, said in a statement. “It reminds us, once again, that a free press is an essential check against tyranny, dishonesty, and impunity.”

 

Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.


September 7, 2018

Tough Love: Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.

by Zainah Anwar

http://www.thestar.com.my

THIS time last year, I wrote about my longing for a better Malaysia, and how my utter belief that this was possible would always triumph over my many moments of despair. There was just too much good in this country for us to ever give up hope.

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And this year, as we celebrate our 61st year of Merdeka, I am simply thrilled. Thrilled that what most people thought was impossible, became possible. Malaysia bucked the global trend and voted into power a reformist government, throwing out a kleptocratic government and a ruling party that had held uninterrupted power since independence in 1957.

The election of a reform-minded government that believes in an inclusive Malaysia and eschews the use of race and religion for political gain does not of course mean we are home free. It is important that we who voted for change remain vigilant that the Pakatan Harapan government delivers on its promises of transformation. And to do this transparently and in consultation with stakeholders.

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Malaysia’s autocrat turned reformer: at 93 can he deliver?

Politicians and voters now realise the power of the ballot box. It cannot be business as usual, replacing one set of economic and political elites with another set whose priorities will be to divide the spoils of victory.

As we welcome the first Merdeka and Malaysia Day under this new Malaysia, I have many wishes for the kind of country I want to live in.

First, I wish to see our ministers summon the political will and courage, and build their knowledge and strategies on how to deliver their reform agenda. And not least, how to stand their ground and defend what is just and what is right, in the face of opposition. We in civil society are tired of seeing too many ministers over the decades retreating in the face of criticism from ideologues, instead of defending a principled position.

Many NGOs, activists, academics, professionals who have long been working on issues such as human rights, women’s rights, education reform, poverty eradication, and economic justice, stand ready to support this government with the kinds of data, analysis, policy instruments, arguments and strategies needed to deliver on the reform agenda and build public support for this urgent necessity for change.

We want to see this government succeed in making this country a just home for all. We pray this government does not squander that goodwill.

Second, I wish to live in a kinder, compassionate, more humane Malaysia. It pains me to see the frenzy of hate, attacks, violence, demonisation of the LGBTIQ community in the country. Why this obsession with another citizen’s sexual orientation and gender identity? The debate is not about same-sex marriage or even about the halal or haram of their sexuality. It is about the right of LGBTIQ people to freedom of movement, their right to work, to health and to live a life free from violence. Why should that be contentious? They are citizens of this country and entitled to the same fundamental rights that other citizens enjoy.

It is obvious that the issue has been whipped up as a political tactic to generate hate and fear, spearheaded by those opposed to the reform agenda of the new government. So they stir up controversies in order to rebuild lost ground. And politicians fearful of losing popular support cave in, so quickly, so easily, so thoughtlessly.

How could a small, oppressed, and discriminated community who actually live in fear on a daily basis, and who long to live in peace and dignity ever pose a threat to Malaysian society? How could an all-knowing compassionate God ever condone cruelty against his own creations just because they are different? So let’s be confident in our faith and believe that if God really wanted all of us to be the same, he would have done so.

Third, I wish to see an end to corruption that has been long fuelled by the intricate web of business and politics in this country. Professor Terrence Gomez’s just released research findings on Government in Business reveal a mind-boggling labyrinth of thousands of GLCs at federal and state levels, most of them unlisted and thus, unscrutinised. There are of course GLCs that are professionally run. But many also serve as tools of patronage and as vehicles to provide politicians with monthly directors’ fees to support their political ambition – at best.

At worst, official investigations and media revelations of outright corruption, criminal breach of trust, and asset stripping display a spectacle of unbelievable greed and betrayal of trust.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed himself has called such GLCs “monsters” that have deviated from their original noble intention of helping the poor.

The Head of the Council of Eminent Persons, Tun Daim Zainuddin, has promised that this time the government wants to get it right in delivering its bumiputra empowerment policy.

We all wait with bated breath, for this country cannot endure, economically, politically and socially, yet more decades of affirmative action on the basis of race rather than need, and all the consequent distortions and abuses that had benefited the economic and political elites.

Fourth, I wish to live in a country where the political leaders and the citizens embrace our diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat. And to walk the talk. It is imperative that the new government sets the tone that it will not tolerate further manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays and supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion to incite hatred and fear of “others”.

This country was on the verge of implosion, and it was the wisdom of the rakyat that saved us, when with courage we voted into power a reformist party.

I was in Bangkok last week to give a talk on identity politics in South-East Asia together with speakers from Indonesia and Myanmar. They were depressed about the political developments in their countries, and my optimism on Malaysia was tempered by the reality that they too had earlier voted in reformist leaders who have now succumbed to the politics of race and religion in order to remain in power.

But I would like to believe that Malaysia is different as we have strong antecedent resources that will put us in good stead in moving forward on a reform agenda. Most importantly is the entrenched belief that this country cannot survive nor prosper without the three major races accepting each other and learning to give and take in sharing equitably the wealth of the nation. It can never be a winner take all game in Malaysia.

Second, we have a significant minority population. This means there is a limit to how far the majority group can use race and religion to serve the interest of the ruling elite, before paying a high political cost for its relentless transgressions, or complicity in its inaction and silence.

Third, while things are far from perfect, our long record of economic growth, poverty reduction, and strong state apparatus put us in good stead that a more open and robust democracy will not be destabilising, and can lead to a more inclusive Malaysia.

Moreover, a large educated Malaysian middle-class and a strong business community eschew any hint of violence or chaos or extremism, and there is a growing critical mass of voters, not least from among the young, who expect their freedoms and rights to be upheld.

And more than anything, the rakyat feel very precious about what we have achieved. As much as we are willing to give Pakatan Harapan the support it needs and the time, too, to deliver on its reform agenda, we have learnt from the mistakes made in the past. We are no longer willing to acquiesce in silence in the wrongdoings and abuses in powerful places, in return for stability and prosperity.

This is the new Malaysia where it will be tough love for all.

A Momentous Merdeka Day in 2018


August 31, 2018

A Momentous Merdeka Day in 2018

by Steve Oh

Steve Oh’s Message to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister

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“There is no independence in the true sense of the emancipation of a nation until the people are free to think, act and exist in a total state of freedom.

May God bless Malaysia still. May Mahathir live longer still and have the humility to walk with God and the people, act justly and have the wisdom of Solomon to govern the nation.

May the government carry out its duties with diligence, honesty, fairness and utter competence. Merdeka then is meaningful.”

COMMENT | Merdeka 2018 is momentous.

I hope for the sake of Malaysia, it will be the final time citizens celebrate their national day with the exhilaration of deliverance from an oppressive political yoke still fresh in their minds.

In 1957, the country was set free from British colonialists. There was a similar euphoria. But the fledgling nation, after deposing the affable first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, was recolonised by a new group of myopic local leaders led by Razak Hussein that included Mahathir Mohamad, Musa Hitam and other UMNO young Turks . The neocolonialists imposed upon the people a yoke heavier than the British yoke.

Fast forward to 2018, and the nation will reverberate once again with freedom and shouts of acclamation on August 31.

After May 13, 1969, she was hijacked and subjected to a lifetime of abuse. Race, closely accompanied by religion, constricted the nation. The nation still forged ahead economically but became tangled in draconian laws and discriminatory policies; was pitifully abused, serially raped and treacherously plundered. Polarisation of the people was purposely planned and executed.

It is treachery of the worst kind when a government led by Najib Razk betrays the trust of the people, divides and steals from them and tries to get away with deception, conspiracy and lies.

Preaching unity and the usual platitudes, it carried out an agenda of subversion, undermining the rule of law and brought the nation to the brink of economic and social disaster. The courts of power became the circuses of clowns, and like Nero the Roman emperor, fiddled away the nation’s future.

Many became cynical, others despondent, yet many never lost hope and worked for change. Still others prayed.

Then the “miracle” the people had worked and prayed for took place on May 9 this year. The nation was emancipated from the abusers, the rapists and the thieves. The treacherous king of kleptocrats now faces justice and the long arm of the law. Those who are culpable will be punished.

The blood spilled and lives taken of innocent victims will be vindicated. The masterminds of the much-publicised slayings of Altantuya Shaariibuu, Kevin Morais (photo) and Hussain Ahmad Najadi, among others, will face justice. The true kidnappers of Pastor Raymond Koh and others will be revealed.

Divine justice

Like many others in a religious Malaysia, I believe in God and the universal law of reaping what you sow. Nothing escapes the truth of time. In time, the truth will surface. And the guilty will be shamed. They will never evade divine justice.

God answers prayers still. For nearly 30 years, even in a faraway land, without fail when I water-hosed my potted plants, I asked God to destroy the evil that had gripped the nation. God answered. He has changed the course of history and saved Malaysia from certain ruin.

Many unsung heroes cried to God for deliverance and he heard their pleas. Often, over the years, I wrote in Malaysiakini of the “higher official who watches over the officials” and will intervene to achieve his purpose. I make no apology for my utter confidence in the God of Justice.

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A Good and Decent Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi turned out to be considering the plunder of the Malaysian state under Najib Razak

Malaysia is a unique nation and deserves to succeed. Former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi hit the nail on the head when he lamented the nation’s “third-world mindset” despite its “first-class infrastructure”.

What will derail the nation is not the cessation of Chinese railway projects but the constricting ideas of the misguided. I’m glad there are “watchmen” – including women – over the country who sound the alarm against the extremists.

The danger of religion is that it can be abused to lead a nation down the slippery slope. To the credit of concerned Muslims like those in the G25 group, their voice of reason resounds through the corridors of power and the public arena.

When religion slices through the heart of a nation and splits it in two, when self-proclaimed defenders of faith become a threat to those they purport to protect, it is time for the state to act and rein in the bigots.

When my father died two years ago at 96, I did not shed a tear. Deep in my heart I know he lived a full life and, in faith, I shall see him again in the place I know. I miss him nearly every day.

Yet, three days ago, the tears welled in my eyes and I felt a tautness in my heart after watching a video I received through WhatsApp.

It was a social experiment organised by Media Prima that took place in the vicinity of Pavilion Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur. A giant elevated electronic screen positioned above the crowds came to life with the audible sounds of a talking man and stopped the passersby in their tracks. The presenter asked them some simple questions, one after another.

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“Who likes nasi lemak?” ‘Who has a close friend from another race?’ ‘Who knows how to sing the national anthem Negara-ku?’ They were asked to gather in a marked square if they answered in the affirmative. In the end, the square was filled with the biggest group of Malaysians of all races.

 

I saw in the video the heartfelt joy of diverse Malaysians – young men and women of different races and religions – unified in their love for their country. They were evidently overjoyed to share so many things in common despite their ethnic and religious differences. The only other time I saw a similar display of spontaneous kinship across race and religion was at the Bersih 5 rally.

Smouldering cinders

Successive governments, leaders, groups and individuals have harped about the uniqueness of Malaysia. Yet the nation still flounders and has yet to come to grips with the devil they know that threatens to derail the nation – the abuse of race and religion. Leaders have yet to act decisively and concretely against the perpetrators of the doctrines that divide, that destroys and that is against the spirit of national unity.

Malaysians know who the devil is that tears the nation apart. Their political sponsors have been sent packing from Putrajaya.

The fire has been put out. But the cinders are still smouldering, their smoke choking the nation and threatening to start bonfires here and there. The nation’s threat lingers and loiters at the corridors and closets of power.

The 1957 Merdeka freed the nation from a foreign yoke. The 2018 “Merdeka” freed the nation from the home-grown yoke.

Will a future “Merdeka” free the nation from the yoke of race and religion that constricts, divides and destroys the unity of the nation?

Believe it or not, the Pavilion event revealed the truth about Malaysia, that the diverse religions and races do co-exist in harmony despite the differences.

Rid the nation of the subversives – those who use race and religion as political weapons to gain the political ascendancy – and you end up with a Malaysia united, prosperous and peaceful.

It is time the new government be bold, be true and be honest in dealing the devil of disunity a fatal blow. Who will it be? Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Pakatan Harapan de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, or some eminent Malay leader?

The metamorphosis of Merdeka is a long journey. It is a historic event as much as an ongoing process. Getting out of jail is one thing, staying out of jail is another. Gaining independence is one thing, giving the people their independence is another.

There is no independence in the true sense of the emancipation of a nation until the people are free to think, act and exist in a total state of freedom.

May God bless Malaysia still. May Mahathir live longer still and have the humility to walk with God and the people, act justly and have the wisdom of Solomon to govern the nation.

May the government carry out its duties with diligence, honesty, fairness and utter competence. Merdeka then is meaningful.

Happy Merdeka 2018, Malaysia!


STEVE OH is the author of the novel “Tiger King of the Golden Jungle” and composer of the musical of the same title. He believes in good governance and morally upright leaders.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way


August 15, 2018

A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Three months after the voters showed the door to the Barisan Nasional, the coalition composed of Malaysia’s ethnic political parties, the media the parties have owned for decades appear at sea, uncertain if they have been unshackled from the parties that own them, unsure of their new freedom, as is the new government.

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The papers include, among others, the English-language New Straits Times and the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia, owned by companies affiliated with the United Malays National Organization; and the English-language Star and the Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association. The Malaysian Indian Congress also publishes local editions.

The attitudes of the mainstream editors and publishers are unknown and spokespersons ignored requests for interviews from Asia Sentinel.

“There have been no real changes except that the mainstream media have reverted to journalism 101, reporting and analyzing without prejudice,” said Jahabar Sadiq, the editor of the independent online Malaysian Insight. “There isn’t much pressure on any media by any side of the political divide.  It’s still early days for this government and the opposition is trying to find its feet.”

Reporters at press conferences seldom ask challenging or tough questions, as was true in the past. The mainstream press has largely turned to praising the policies and actions of the Pakatan Harapan government, as Sadiq noted, without a serious examination of the issues, of which there are plenty.

After decades of circumspection out of fear of dismissal and worse, journalists are reluctant to criticize issues which  dominate social media such as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal for a new national car project, his dominance of Khazanah Nasional, the investment arm of the government, the repressive religious actions of the Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia (JAKIM).and government-linked companies (GLCs), most of which have been run by cronies of the previous government and which for years have lived off fat government contracts.

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Malaysia’s Cartoonist, Zunar

In the run up to the May 9 general election, the mainstream media, on instruction from the Barisan and its leading party the United Malays National Organization would attack Mahathir, its fiercest critic. Now, they have switched their attack to former Prime Minister Najib, who faces corruption charges over 1MDB and other issues. In fact, Sadiq said, there are moves to take over the establishment media and bend it to favor the new government, as if the new government hasn’t quite got the idea of a free press right.

“Obviously we were heartened by the new government’s move to lift the travel ban and drop the pending sedition charges against cartoonist Zunar,” said Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “And we were also encouraged by the government’s stated commitment to scrap Najib’s bogus ‘fake news’ law.”

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Malaysiakini’s Duo, Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

But, Crispin said, “until Mahathir’s administration follows through with that commitment and moves to scrap various other laws on the books used to intimidate and harass the press,  journalists will still be at risk. It should also drop the various charges pending against journalists, including those filed by the previous government against Malaysiakini.”

Mahathir’s government “promised a democratic revolution upon its election – there would be no more meaningful way to make good on that vow than by freeing the press,” he continued.

Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that restrict freedom of the press.  One of them is the infamous sedition statute, which was used against a long string of academics, journalists, opposition politicians and others.

 

And shockingly it was used again in July, two months after the long-suppressed opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition came to power, against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, a lawyer with the Center to Combat Corruption and Colonialism, who questioned the power of the country’s nine sultans in a democracy. Fadiah was questioned by  the Police on July 10 for an hour. She claimed the right to remain silent and the case is hanging fire.  But the incident raises serious questions over the commitment of the new coalition to the right to free expression.

The alternative media, including the major online news portals, Malaysiakini and Malaysian Insight, continue to play their role as the conscience of the nation and try to present a balanced view to the public.

The Pakatan Harapan administration may have promised more press freedom, but unless reporters have more integrity and rise to the challenge of scrutinizing the new coalition\ by asking tough questions of its ministers, and their policies, little will change. They are easily fobbed off with remarks like “It’s Mahathir’s prerogative” to do as he pleases.

The election promise by the new government of increased press freedom has ostensibly been welcomed. At July’s Malaysian Press Night 2018 for the 2017 Malaysian Press Institute (MPI)-Petronas Journalism Awards, Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, urged the press to play a critical role in the nation’s political transition towards a mature democratic country.

Claiming that his government was more open and willing to embrace press freedom, he said: “Journalists do not have to worry about receiving calls from the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) or other ministers. In fact, it is okay to hold more debates. Hopefully, no editor will be summoned anymore just because some pictures are ‘not interesting enough’.

Few would disagree, but some believe that there has been little change. Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that could potentially limit press freedom.

Prior to the election, political appointees enjoyed prominent positions on mainstream editorial boards and few politicians felt any fear, even during press conferences, of serious exposes. Editorial boards still control what the public reads.

To the casual observer, the mainstream media has always been full of praise for the ruling party, but fiercely critical of the opposition. With new editorial guidelines under the new government, many hoped that things would change.

The people who doubt the critical role of the free, self-regulating press to expose acts of corruption, deaths in custody and illegal practices need to remind themselves that many of these horrors would never have been in the public domain, but for the few people who were prepared to write about them, publish the reports in the papers and demand that action be taken to help society’s most marginalized people.

In the past, the institutions and the key people involved would close ranks, silence criticism and turn a blind eye to public concerns. Those who made the reports and who dared to give a voice to victims, were threatened and charged with various trumped-up offences, to silence them. In some cases, they were killed to stop action being taken.