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Racism, Umno and media control

FOR the week of 23 to 29 March 2009, the Chinese media highlighted reactions towards Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s criticism of Chinese educationists, Umno’s direction after the party polls, the suspension of two political newsletters, and the barring of online media from the Umno general assembly.

During a rally organised by the right-wing Malay group Perkasa on 22 March, former prime minister Mahathir alleged that the Dong Jiao Zong Chinese education group practised apartheid when it rejected the Vision School concept.

His outburst brought a predictable response from MCA politicians and civil society.

In its 23 March editorial titled Name-calling doesn’t help, Sin Chew Daily noted that Mahathir’s criticisms clearly represent the thoughts of rightist Malay nationalists.

Mahathir (Public domain)
“As of today, the Education Ministry states that it will not force anyone to participate in the Vision School programme. Giving Chinese schools the free will to decide whether to join the Vision School programme is a broad-minded gesture,” said Sin Chew.

“Unfortunately, during the course of debate between those who agree and those who disagree with the implementation of the programme, we have also heard some radical statements, accusing those who oppose Vision Schools as being unpatriotic, anti-unity, obstructing nation-building and being Chinese chauvinists.

“These views are not able to help in solving problems or converting non-believers. They worsen the situation by politicising the issue, besides causing people to behave emotionally. Judging from this perspective, Tun Dr Mahathir’s labelling of Chinese educationists as racist does not help.

“If the concept of Bangsa Malaysia is, as claimed by the former prime minister, a failure, Vision Schools are not at fault. The key factors in determining the success of Bangsa Malaysia lie in the practice of transparency and openness in implementation of government policies and ensuring equality among different cultures.

“The task at hand is for the authorities to address racial polarisation in campuses, and encourage students to form multiracial organisations to replace ethnic- and religious-based student bodies,” concluded the daily.

Umno’s new direction

On 27 March, a commentary by Dr Lin You Quan titled Change in Umno: Returning to the authoritarian path? was published in Nanyang Siang Pau. The writer examined the effects of Umno party polls in conjunction with Datuk Seri Najib Razak taking over the helm as party president.

Lin said: “Due to Umno’s structure, a change in leadership does not necessarily bring changes in substance. The speeches given by the newly elected Youth and Wanita chiefs emphasised the importance of ‘change’. However, to think of ‘change’ as ‘reform’ is wishful thinking.

“Self-survival has always been the only consideration for Umno to change. The Perak political crisis and the recent control of the media are proof that Umno will do anything to ensure its survival.

“In responding to recent developments, the outgoing party president Datuk Seri Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi) urged party delegates in his final speech not to revert to the old ways, or else suffer self-destruction. Will his words be heeded?” Lin wondered.

Najib (left) and Abdullah before a pre-assembly meeting at PWTC on 24 March
(Pic by Zulkifli Ersal, courtesy of theSun)

On 28 March, interviewed political commentator Jamaluddin Ibrahim, who is known by his Chinese pen name Jamal, for his views on Umno after the party polls.

“Umno is an enormous organisation, but many of its beliefs and traditions are outdated. We should allow more time for Umno to reorganise and reform. If it fails to change within a period of time, support from the public will further diminish,” said Jamal. 

“Although oppressive measures taken by Najib thus far are similar to that of Dr Mahathir’s, Abdullah in his last speech as party president urged Najib not to revert to the old ways. We shall see if Najib will listen to Abdullah’s advice.”

Jamal also called for the new Umno team to be given time to get to work before there are judged. “I believe the coming three by-elections (in Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai) serve as a good indicator to see if Umno will change,” concluded Jamal.

Suspension of thought

The new media was vocal in criticising the Home Ministry’s three-month suspension of Suara Keadilan and Harakah and the issue of the online media being barred from covering the Umno general assembly.

On 29 March, Jin Ming wrote in the Chinese version of that Suspending party newspapers does not stop the public from thinking.

“Just when the public is having doubts over the long waiting period between a seat being vacated and a by-election being called (58 days in the case of the Bukit Gantang parliamentary seat; the law stipulates that a by-election must be held within 60 days), as well as the Election Commission’s decision to have all three by-elections on the same day, two [opposition] party newsletters were suspended.

Suara Keadilan and Harakah were suspended for three months because of ‘distorted and fabricated facts with the aim to create misunderstanding and instill hatred for the government and leaders’.

“If the newsletters really do distort facts and instill hatred for the government and leaders, why are they only suspended for three months? Does this mean they will no longer distort facts and instill hatred after three months?” Jin asked.

“[The authorities] can use its power to stop presses from publishing and reporters from covering the news, [but] looking at today’s mainstream media, more and more people choose not to believe their reports wholeheartedly and are beginning to question the authenticity of their coverage.”

No permit to cover polls

On 26 March, editor Chang Teck Peng shared the news portal’s experiences about being barred from covering the Umno general assembly in Reporting without a permit.

Chang said it was not the first time Umno refused to issue permits to the online media. Since its inception in August 2005, has been covering the news without the official government accreditation tag. After operating for four years, the news site finally received its accreditation tag form the Information Department in January 2009. Despite this, Umno still refused to allow to report on the party polls.

“The journalist accreditation tag is a way for the government to control the media. Only journalists who have such tags are openly allowed to enter government departments for news coverage. This means the government gets to decide who can be journalists and which media organisations are legal.

“The function of the tag is completely identical to that of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which gives the Home Minister the right to decide who is allowed to publish newspapers,” he said, adding that it was just another layer of control.

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One Response to “Racism, Umno and media control”

  1. Jonathan Ong says:

    The Umno general-assembly-turned-race-convention is a good display of the danger of racial politics.

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