COMMENT | In the late 70s, the erstwhile member of parliament for Bukit Bintang was the reporter’s saviour. “No story? Call Lee Lam Thye lah” was often heard in the newsroom. Sure enough, if you called him, he would give you some quotes which would make a story for The Malay Mail, which was then a regional newspaper.
It came in such regularity that the then news editor, the late A Sri K Nayagam had to order: “Enough of pictures of Lam Thye pointing to potholes and drains. He is not a longkang MP.”
Lee still writes letters to the newspapers and comments on everything and anything under the sun. While we initially thought this was unique to him and a handful of other regular “letter writers”, this practice seems to have spread.
The former prime minister, Najib Abdul Razak, now prides himself with statements and rebuttals almost daily and some of us have termed him as, among others, “a statement-a-day loser.” A bit too harsh in my book, but when media people gather after work, all and sundry are discussed, including affairs of ministers – present and past.
Any former prime minister or deputy still makes news even if they choose to remain silent. Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s absence in the public arena started tongues wagging in the social media. (However, he made a late cameo appearance at the Balakong by-election campaign last night.)
I steadfastly hold the view that everyone should be able to express his or her views, and everyone has the right to disagree with such views. But those exercising such rights must be able to take as much as they give.
As I said in a column on Sept 1, Najib should be the last person to talk about morals, and argued my stand with several assertions and questions. I have been a great advocate of the right of reply which Malaysiakini accords, but it appears that Najib is selective in the application of this right.
Under Najib’s watch, everyone who could write or speak could attack the then opposition. However, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and company had no recourse when nonsensical and unsubstantiated charges were made against them. When Dr Mahathir Mohamad was demonised and DAP was vilified as wanting to establish a Christian government, their responses were muted by Najib’s command. It was a time when the Lim Sian Sees, the Eric See-Tos and the Huangs had a field day, but their words and deeds did little to influence Malaysians.
For Najib, there is now a platform to have his say. No one calls up editors to order “black him out.” Unlike the previous regime, the government has in no way impeded independent journalism. (But certain media practitioners do think they have to curry favour with the current regime.) The Home Ministry and related agencies have not decreed (as in the past) that the opposition should be shut out.
Najib’s silence and his refusal to address the issues can be interpreted that he accepts those assertions as the truth. He could also be afraid of providing implausible and improbable replies, which would then make him the butt of jokes.
I beg to differ...