The silence on press freedom is deafening

As if owning The Star indirectly through Huaren was not bad enough, the MCA now wants direct control.

By H. Leow

It is a matter that concerns press freedom, media integrity and the future of journalistic profession in Malaysia but the silence is deafening.

Either Malaysians in general have given up hope on press freedom and integrity, especially on the mainstream print media, or it is the conspiracy of the publishers to keep such an important issue under wraps and away from the public glare. I am talking about MCA’s acquisition of 42.4% stake in The Star from Huaren Holdings Sdn Bhd, an investment arm of the Chinese political party.

As if owning The Star indirectly through Huaren was not bad enough, the MCA now wants direct control.

This is akin to nailing the coffin on press freedom, if there was any left in The Star, and to the media industry as a whole. No matter how you argue or try to justify the acquisition, common sense dictates.

No one in the right frame of mind will believe that The Star’s editorial policy, especially on political news, will be fair and not slanted to the advantage of the MCA and the inner circle of the president’s men.

Likewise, even general and business news will be manipulated or controlled to give MCA interests the edge over others, no matter how significant or important it may be. As long as the news is deemed negative in the view of the MCA political masters, you will not see the day light of the print.

Alternatively, the paper will also be used to attack anyone deemed unfriendly to MCA or the president’s cronies.

In 2001, the MCA did a number on the Chinese community who then enjoyed greater press freedom in the Chinese vernacular newspapers. It acquired a controlling stake in Nanyang Press Holdings which published Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press, and eventually as feared, sold it to the Sin Chew group six years later.

Now, all four national Chinese vernacular newspapers – Nanyang, China Press, Sin Chew and Guang Ming – are in the monopoly of Media Chinese International Ltd (MCIL). MCIL was formed following a merger between Ming Pao Enterprise Corp Ltd, Sin Chew Media Corp Bhd and Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd.

There is also the question of transparency and justification in MCA’s acquisition of The Star. What are the real reasons for the transfer of shares from the left hand to the right hand? The move is in whose interests?

MCA treasurer-general Tan Chai Ho, in a telephone interview with Bloomberg last week, declined to give a reason for the
transfer of shares. And The Star on-line news portal reported MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai as saying the issue would be discussed at the party’s central committee (CC) meeting. “Announcement will be made after the CC meeting (last week),’’ he said.

Now, isn’t it more appropriate for the CC to meet and decide on the sale instead of putting the cart before the horse? Now, trouble is brewing with Bukit Pasar MCA branch vice-chief Hui Huat lodging a police report in Seremban last week alleging criminal breach of trust.

Hui said Article 45.9 of the party constitution required such acquisitions to be endorsed by the central committee members. However, he claimed the transaction was decided solely by the MCA presidential council.

A healthy free media promotes transparency and help stimulate a country’s socio-economic progress. Therefore, newspapers must not be controlled by politicians or political parties to avoid biasness.

The positive growth of journalism in Malaysia does not look good under the present circumstances.

God save freedom of the press and Malaysians.

H. Leow
Kajang, Selangor