FOR the week of 13 to19 April 2009, the Chinese media focused on Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s controversial statement about the Chinese Malaysian community; reactions to the increasingly racist slant in articles published in Utusan Malaysia; and a Media Prima directive concerning the Altantuya Shaariibuu case.
On 13 April, all the Chinese newspapers highlighted Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s interview with Utusan Malaysia the previous day.
Muhyiddin He was quoted as saying that despite the financial assistance provided by the Barisan Nasional (BN) to the Chinese schools in the area, the Chinese Malaysian voters in Bukit Gantang still voted for the opposition. The deputy prime minister added that this showed the Chinese Malaysian electorate was unappreciative or ungrateful.
Muhyiddin also expressed his disappointment that instead of getting a little more support from the community, the BN saw a decrease.
In a Sin Chew Daily editorial titled Chinese at fault again? on the same day, writer Zhang Zhao Min commented that the readers need not be shocked as this was not the first time that Umno was blaming the Chinese Malaysian electorate for their loss in an election.
However, Zhang reminded Muhyiddin that as the ruling government, it was the BN’s responsibility to take care of the people, including the Chinese Malaysians. After all, Zhang wrote, the government’s funds come from taxpayers, so how could it be said that the Chinese Malaysian electorate are ungrateful or unappreciative?
Predictably, the DPM’s statements created an uproar in the Chinese Malaysian community. In a report in Merdeka Review on 13 April, Gerakan and MCA leaders were quoted as saying Muhyiddin’s statement exposed his ethnocentric thinking, and they urged Umno to reflect on its own weaknesses instead of blaming the Chinese Malaysians.
Lim Kit Siang DAP leaders Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng also slammed Muhyiddin. Kit Siang said the DPM’s statement demonstrated how the BN has tried to use money politics to fish for votes, while Guan Eng asked Muhyiddin to retract his words and apologise to the community.
“Muhyiddin has twisted the concept of democracy, the representatives are elected by the people, they should be grateful to the people, not the people to them,” Guan Eng, who is Penang chief minister, was reported as saying in Guang Ming Daily on 13 April.
On 14 April, Muhyiddin backpeddled and denied that he had said the Chinese Malaysians were ungrateful. He said he had meant that they “appeared unappreciative” and accused the Chinese media of twisting his words and taking it out of context. The DPM also said the journalists should go back to school if they did not understand Bahasa Malaysia.
Interestingly, all but one of the Chinese dailies refuted Muhyiddin’s accusations against them in their editorials. Sin Chew‘s Zheng Ting Xian defended Chinese Malaysian journalists in his column on 15 April. In Bahasa Malaysia, we learnt before, Zheng noted that Malaysian politicians have a habit of taking a different stand when speaking to different media.
In online news portal therocknews.com, citizen journalist Shen Chong Jie noted the Chinese print media’s resounding silence and pointed out that ironically, it was a writer from an English news site who spoke out for the Chinese media. Consultant editor for The Malaysian Insider Leslie Lau defended the Chinese-language newspapers in his piece Kami pun faham Bahasa Melayu on 14 April.
Subsequently, Merdeka Review reported on 17 April that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak invited all media editors to tea on 15 April, and hinted in his conversations with them that the Chinese media should not continue to follow-up on the issue. It appeared that the Chinese print media at least got the hint: there were no more reports on the issue within their pages.
Playing up the Malay agenda
The Chinese media also focused on the apparent increase in articles on Malay nationalism carried in Utusan Malaysia.
Chinese online media Malaysiakini (CN), Merdeka Review and therocknews.com all reacted to Utusan Malaysia‘s front-page report on 15 April, Bangkitlah Melayu. The Chinese print media was, however, curiously silent on the issue.
Mah Siew Keong In response to the article, Gerakan vice-president Datuk Mah Siew Keong was quoted by Merdeka Review on 15 April as saying that the headline could be misinterpreted, cause misunderstanding, and harm the harmonious relations among the different races.
“Utusan Malaysia should be more careful in its reporting. I’m disappointed that some people have played up this issue, because this may cause unknown damage to our society’s structure,” he said.
Mah added that the article contradicted the prime minister’s 1Malaysia concept.
Therocknews.com citizen journalist Lim Shi Hao wrote that Utusan Malaysia had published a series of Malay Malaysian-centric articles from 13-16 April: Kebijaksanaan kaum Cina berpolitik (13 April); Bahaya Melayu terus berpecah (14 April); Jangan mudah melenting (15 April); Bangkitlah Melayu (16 April); and Semua kaum patut pertahankan perpaduan (originally titled Jangan membuat permintaan yang bukan-bukan, 17 April).
He commented: “This is a worrying trend. Since the 1980s, this paper, which is seen as Umno’s mouthpiece, has never published articles so full of Malay nationalism. Even more surprisingly, although [these articles] have been published for three days in a row, the Umno leaders have not put a stop to it. Is this really a coincidence?”
The author also noted the MCA’s silence on these reports so far.
In another controversial report, Malaysiakini (CN) revealed on 17 April that the television stations under Media Prima (TV3, NTV7, 8TV, and TV9) had been instructed not to name political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor when reporting on the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case.
According to the report, the directive was part of an e-mail sent on behalf of the group director of news and current affairs (television networks) Kamarulzaman Zainal. The e-mail also said footage of Razak Baginda and accusations against Najib and Rosmah in connection with the case are also banned.
The report said the order contradicted Najib’s speech on press freedom where he announced that he wanted “a vibrant, free and informed media” as the way forward for the country.