KUALA LUMPUR, 24 March 2009: Umno, which started its general assembly today to plot the party’s renewal under a new leadership, showed the first sign of its resistance to reform – it barred the internet media from covering the five-day event.
Initially, no word was issued officially but checks by the press corp and online media agencies with one another revealed that several news websites have been denied the red-coloured press tags required to cover the general assembly.
The online media affected are Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, Siasah, Merdeka Review, and The Nut Graph. According to Malaysiakini, Chinese website Laksou has also been barred.
The traditional print and foreign media, however, have been issued media passes.
Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor confirmed at a press conference that a total of six news websites were barred from covering the assembly.
“All these websites have been irresponsible in their reporting. If you report responsibly about Umno’s leaders, then we will allow you to come in. But the way they report is sickening,” Tengku Adnan said at the Umno general assembly.
Outgoing Prime Minister and party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was also present at the press conference.
Umno media officer Abdul Hamid Satar had earlier today told Malaysiakini that these media were considered “bloggers”. He added that the decision to bar them was made by a higher party authority, believed to be Tengku Adnan.
The ban on the internet media comes despite these organisations’ reporters having submitted their applications to cover the general assembly in advance. The online media have also been given government accreditation by the Information Department.
Umno has a right
Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who is running for a seat in the Umno supreme council, said he did not know of the party’s ban of the new media.
He said even though the websites had been accredited by the Information Ministry, it was still up to Umno to decide whether to allow them coverage.
“What we do as government in giving accreditation is a separate matter from Umno’s decision to allow the new media. They have the right to allow or deny, just like how PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat have banned newspapers like Berita Harian or Utusan from covering their events,” Shabery told The Nut Graph when met at the general assembly.
The Nut Graph editor Jacqueline Ann Surin earlier said that to be fair, Umno should be given a chance to explain its decision to bar the online media.
“After all, they do have a right to choose who to bar and who to allow into their assembly. But the implications of their actions and what it says about the dominant party in the Barisan Nasional is then something that they may have to deal with.”
Siasah editor Zulkifli Sulong said they only realised their reporters had been banned today, the first day of the general assembly.
“For the past three to four days whenever we called to check on the status of our press passes, we were told that they were ‘KIV’. Only today we realised upon checking with the Umno secretariat that they were not planning to issue us the passes,” Zulkifli said.
The Nut Graph had a similar experience. Each time a query was made with the party’s public relations division, the reply was either that the tags were “KIV” or “not yet ready”.
Additionally, the website’s reporters were told to refer to Datuk Abu Khamis, Tengku Adnan’s special officer. Calls to his office went unanswered.
Malaysian Insider consultant editor Leslie Lau said they did not get the press passes either. “No reasons were given,” he said today in a phone interview.
Zulkifli said the ban won’t stop Siasah from covering the assembly. “It’s an important event. It’s not just for Umno but it’s about the country’s future. We’ll find ways to do it,” he said.
All the other banned new media are expected to do the same. Reporters from the banned organisations still turned up at the Putra World Trade Centre where the Umno general assembly is being held.
“We will try to report as best as we can from the Putra World Trade Centre. All good journalists are resourceful and The Nut Graph journalists no less. We also expect that there is enough media camaraderie for information to be exchanged among the media corp covering the Umno general assembly,” Surin said.
Though access will be denied into the main halls where the proceedings take place, the events will be televised through close-circuit television in the main lobby. It has been common in past general assemblies for non-delegates to follow the proceedings from outside the hall via television.
At the press conference, Abdullah was also asked about the three-month suspension of Suara Keadilan and Harakah, the party organs of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and PAS, respectively.
Abdullah brushed off questions by reporters on whether this would mar his legacy as he prepares to leave office.
“Why are you asking me? There must have been a very good reason [for the suspensions]. What has it to do with me?”