Don't go after The Edge, but real culprits

Akhbar Satar

Modified 2 Jan 2016, 3:24 am

COMMENT Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) stands with Nazir Abdul Razak in condemning the government’s action in suspending The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily based on the principle that the right to free expression, freedom of the press and other media are essential components and pillars of democracy.

Rewind six years back to April 2009, when Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had said, “The day and age where government knows all and knows best is so long over”.

Najib also described his new cabinet then would serve the people whose performance will be closely monitored through key performance indicators (KPI), and added his cabinet promised to take on efforts to build a government “for the rakyat, and one which will serve the needs of the people”.

In April his year, the PM said inclusiveness and sustainability would be the core values of the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP). And in the same April too, the PM’s speech at the launch of the 2014 Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) reports stresses “the bottom line is, we listen to complaints and criticisms and welcome the views and opinions of all parties, especially the people at the bottom.

“However, it should be remembered that whatever criticisms and suggestions should be constructive and not blindly given. Because, only with constructive criticism and suggestion are we able to correct, and improve on what is lacking and the weaknesses that exist here and there.”

Move forward to these past few weeks, we have had loads of news on allegations, accusations, threats, remands, wanted list and travel bans. We are seeing an overdose of ‘slinging’ from all sides. But, why then suspend the two publications of The Edge group?

The CIMB group boss puts it succinctly: “Recent 1MDB coverage seems outstanding but if there were flaws, then correct them or take legal recourse. The media indeed played a big role in keeping businesses informed, honest and competitive.”

According to Rafidah Aziz ( photo ), “Banning media publications for reporting what certain quarters deem ‘unsavoury’ will not solve anything. If at all, it’s making many more people upset.”

Worse still, there is now another grouse against the government - for nothing.

While AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes, among those who commented on Nazir’s post, said freedom of the press is the pillar of democracy, there are other recourses, if the reporting is wrong.

Since the 1MDB case is currently being investigated by the special task force, TI-M is of the view that it would be appropriate and fair that any decision against both The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily to be suspended should only be taken after the completion of the investigation - and if found that there is a basis from the outcome of the investigation so that their decision can be easily justified and to avoid any person from questioning the decision of suspension made by the Home Ministry.

Go through legal process

On the other hand, if the Home Ministry is of the view that the articles written by the both publications violate or contravene the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (amended 2012) and are prejudicial or may be prejudicial to public order, or may alarm public opinion or jeopardise public order and national interest, TI-M strongly feels that Home Ministry should go through legal process and action rather than to suspend these two publications for three months from July 27 based on the three reasons mentioned as proper legal action would allow the relevant parties to defend their action in the court of law.

Suspending a newspaper which reported on the 1MDB scandal is not going to help the government in any way. In fact it will have more negative impact on Malaysia in terms of its international standing, sovereign ratings and the other ratings, including the international perception on our press freedom.

On another point, the Malaysian government seems to have reneged on its promise not to censor the Internet by blocking access to Sawarak Report . All these unpleasant acts will lead to loss of confidence in this country and impact our economy negatively, as seen by the free fall of the ringgit.

Our government must not go for the ‘overkill’ in suppressing free speech on the pretext of acting against critics. Let’s get our facts right before we carry out more irrational measures.

Let us, for a moment, step back and ask ourselves why we are in this unwanted predicament today. So many people who are not directly related to 1MDB have been raided, remanded, interrogated and even imposed with travel bans.

If only the few characters that are directly related to 1MDB fulfil their moral and legal obligation to tell us Malaysians the full story, and not bits and pieces which have in some cases been proven incorrect, we could have spent our useful resources to reach the goals of 2020.

“Let there among you be a group that summons to all that is beneficial, commands what is proper and forbids what is improper; they are the ones who will prosper.” (Ali ‘Imran 3:104)

The government-of-the-day, with the promise of inclusiveness, could help in resolving the mess that we are in now. The day and age where government knows all and knows best is so long over.

In democracy, the government cannot function unless the people are well-informed and free to participate in public issues by having the widest choice of alternative solutions for the problems that arise.

A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.

AKHBAR SATAR is president, Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M).

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