Memorandum on third anniversary of the Nanyang takeover
Read the memorandum sent by media freedom groups to the Malaysian Prime Minister, three years after the takeover of Chinese daily Nanyang Siang Pau by the Malaysian Chinese Association.
Dear Prime Minister Datuk Sri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,
We are a group of concerned citizens who are feeling increasingly uneasy about the state of press freedom in Malaysia.
It goes without saying that Malaysians in general have long been denied the freedom to write, to speak and to report freely, fairly and responsibly. In the name of racial harmony and national unity, press freedom is severely curtailed, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in the current state of the so-called mainstream press. For years, the English and the Malay newspapers have been advancing and promoting government policies without an iota of critical review and analysis, while the Chinese press is fast becoming the mouthpiece of the Chinese-based parties within the ruling Barisan Nasional.
Ever since the takeover of the Nanyang Press Holdings by the Huaren Holdings, an MCA investment arm, on 28th May 2001, the relative freedom once enjoyed by the Chinese press in Malaysia has been eroded further. As writers, we are in a very good position to testify to the deteriorating quality of the content in Chinese newspapers, be it news reports or commentaries, over the past three years. This, we reason, is the immediate outcome of the fact that two major newspapers, the China Press and Nanyang Siang Pau, are now directly owned by the MCA. In other words, political ownership has had very negative impact on the Malaysian press at large.
Having said that, we are under no delusion that, once the issue of political ownership is resolved, the Malaysian press will immediately become free and fair. More often than not, monopoly on media ownership can do more harm than direct political interference, as the owner may use his or her clout to exert undue influence over the reading public, as well as to prevent any potential competitor from joining the fray. In view of this, we strongly urge the government to look carefully into the issue of media ownership and come up with a parliamentary act to redress the problem.
In commemoration of the 3rd Anniversary of the takeover of the Nanyang Press by the MCA, we specifically would like Your Honourable Prime Minister to consider the following requests of ours:
a. to table a bill in parliament to the effect that all political parties must withdraw from media ownership, and this should apply to Utusan Malaysia and Mingguan Malaysia (owned by UMNO), Berita Harian, Berita Minggu, New Straits Times, New Sunday Times, Malay Mail and Harian Metro (owned by the New Straits Times Press), The Star and Nanyang Siang Pau (owned by Huaren Holdings, an investment arm of the MCA);
b. to table a bill in parliament that would lead to a Freedom of Information Act in place of the oft-abused Official Secrets Act to ensure greater and freer flow of information within the public;
c. to table a bill to outlaw media monopoly, to the effect that media ownership did not concentrate too heavily on certain business conglomerates. The NSTP, for instance, has under its belt four major national newspapers, a situation that in our view is very unhealthy in terms of the access to information and news. Moreover, the fact that Astro, the sole satellite TV service provider, is able to raise its subscription fees at its own will speaks volume of the negative impact on the consumers as a result of media monopoly. In the United States, for instance, there is an Antitrust Law that disallows a media operator to own more than one TV station in a same town or city, so as to ensure that media consumers are able to receive a wide range of information from a variety of service providers;
d. to demand an explanation from the Ministry of Home Affairs as to the reasons why a number of Chinese language columnists have been banned from writing for the Chinese dailies in Malaysia, including Yang Baiyang, Yong Kai Peng, Chang Teck Peng and Wong Chin Huat. It is in the interest of the Malaysian public to know why the opinions and arguments of the writers concerned should pose a threat to our national security and public order.
Immediately after you took over the prime ministership from Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, you called on the nation to join in your effort to create a responsive government. No doubt, we are all heartened by these sincere words of yours. It is therefore certainly our earnest hope that you will succeed in making good on this promise, and one way that can help you achieve the goal is by setting the media and the press free, and by doing away with political ownership, media monopoly and the culture of fear among Malaysians, once and for all.
Finally, we have sought the endorsement of a number of non-governmental organisations. As you have reiterated lately, that you would like the NGOs to be the eyes and the ears to the government. By handing to you this memorandum, we hope we have raised one of the major concerns of the general public for your immediate attention and consideration.
Writers’ Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)