Legal action against Penang critics worrying


FMT LETTER: From Penang Forum Steering Committee, via e-mail

Penang Forum is disturbed both by the sweeping statements made by Chant advisor Jimmy Lim as well as the legal action initiated by the Chief Minister of Penang against a critic of Penang state and municipal council policies, a news portal and its reporter.

The legal action against the Free Malaysia Today, its journalist, and Chant advisor Jimmy Lim over a Dec 6, 2013 report is worrying.

Chant is not represented in the Penang Forum Steering Committee. Some of its advisor’s cluttering of various issues and broad-brush sweeping statements are misleading and certainly not entirely accurate. The Kampong Buah Pala issue is far from clear cut and the ‘Botak Hill’ issue is still being pursued.

Yes, we are all dismayed by the over-development in Penang and the mushrooming of highrises everywhere we look and the dismal way that our heritage is being ‘protected’. But the weakness lies in the lack of understanding among our administrators and the lack of vision in planning.

In testimony to its commitment to conservation, the Pakatan government has taken some bold and brave steps to defend the heritage of Penang as when it managed to get four developers to lower the heights of their buildings, even when it led to being sued by one of them.

The state government has also set up GTWHI, a positive move and it has given great prominence to George Town Festival in celebration of both tangible as well as intangible heritage. It has also been firm with swiftlet breeders in the WHS.

However, the glaring errors of planning are very difficult for Penangites to accept, thereby leading to obvious criticism.

But surely one does not need to threaten legal action for lamenting our current environment. Penang Forum is very concerned about the message such action sends out to anyone who is critical about the type of development policies the state government and local councils are pursuing.

Once we go down the path of suing critics who only want what they feel is best for Penang, where will it end? What kind of impact will it have on other civil society groups or individuals who have the right to openly question and criticise policies they think are detrimental?

Although the Chief Minister is entitled to take legal action if he feels aggrieved against the FMT report, we feel that the action is disproportionate. A political leader should be magnanimous enough to take criticism in his stride, especially if there is nothing to hide. After all, such criticism is par for the course in politics.

If a news portal persists in reporting sweeping and inaccurate statements or denies the right of reply, the state government can publish clarifications and rebut inaccuracies in the myriad of online news websites and social media available.

In the end, truth should prevail. Any news portal perceived to be peddling untruths or sweeping statements will only lose credibility – and readership (as some of the traditional media have experienced). The loss of credibility and readership would be a far worse setback for such a news organisation.