Media Ban: Same old, same old MACC

If anyone out there held hopes that MACC’s new chief Abul Kassim Mohamed would be the proverbial new broom and sweep cleaner, they must surely be disappointed.

By Wong Choon Mei (Harakah)

Like many other journalists, I was shocked that he would choose his first major press conference to ban the media from reporting on complaints lodged with his commission as well as on other on-going cases.

‘Today I would like to make an announcement that in the future, we will use this provision in the MACC Act for the justice of all parties’ was his rather ambiguous statement.

Immediately, a torrent of questions – both vocalized and not – followed. What is this guy up to? Is he trying to stamp his authority? Why gag the press? Is he trying to protect ‘some people’ or even his own commission from negative publicity? What’s up? Are there sensitive things on the queue waiting to explode into public consciousness?

But the silver-haired and rather suave Abu assured that he was not trying to suppress the media. It’s just that their reporting irked his commission’s work, losing it the vital element of secrecy and surprise against the guilty.

He waved at Section 29(4) of the MACC Act that states any person found guilty of disseminating information on a complaint that has been lodged could face legal action. And that extends not only to reporters and their editors, but also to the complainants.

The return of the Black Hole

Who have been the main complainants of late? No prizes for the right answer, it is definitely politicians and from both sides of the political divide!

Granted, some of them even seem to be making a career out of lodging complaints against their political foes with either the MACC or the police. And it is also true – many of these leaders do inform the media of their intentions and set up press conferences to publicize the event after lodging their reports.

But it is not all just about publicity. Politicians do adore being in the limelight. However, many also do so to ensure that the news gets out to the public.

At risk of antagonizing my friends in the mainstream media, I think they have to admit that quite often chunks of ‘sensitive’ news are completely missing from their pages. As far as cover-up skills go, this is the easiest and the most basic. No need to spin, provide fresh angles or even bother to misinform. Just don’t report or print at all. No one would be the wiser, especially the public. It’s easy.

But is this really good for Malaysia – will we be richer or poorer for it? Can we grow if news keeps being deliberately blacked out for the sake of ‘national interest?.

Indeed, what justice does Abu mean? Yes, complainees have rights too, and secrecy and surprise are powerful weapons. But should he – a public servant – ignore the wishes of the people? Why doesn’t he heed the cues expressed by voters in the March 8, 2008 election? Or does he reckon that was just an accident and won’t occur again? Yes, Umno-BN is still the strongest!

But jokes aside, what’s to prevent complaints from falling into a Black Hole of the MACC’s own making? Indeed, why not install check-and-balances first to ensure that the commission itself does not fall prey to corruption?

Should that not be his priority rather than slapping on a confusing media ban and blocking out information to the people? –


(Choon Mei is a Consultant Editor with Harakah)