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Tracking Rais

I THOUGHT of Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim the other day and reflected on the impact that man has in my life.

He affects my work since I rely heavily on the internet. He affects my entertainment choices since I almost would not have been able to attend the Arthur’s Day Black Eyed Peas concert with my Muslim friends if I wanted to. For a moment, he was said to be sticking his fingers into Astro content but luckily it turned out to be untrue.

Photochop of 1— Beyonce saying 'apa khabar Malaysia!', 2— Rais saying the dress is sooo 2005, 3 — Beyonce looking upset
Rais Yatim, fashion police?
(Rais  ©, Beyoncé CC BY 2.0 pexcornel)

How did I come to be thinking of Rais, of all people? Well, I had just read about Beyoncé Knowles‘ concert in Kuala Lumpur next month and Rais was in the second of my two spontaneous reactions: First, that PAS Youth will want her concert banned (which they typically have already). And second, I bet Rais is going to say something about her dressing soon.

Since taking on the information, communications and culture portfolio in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s new cabinet, Rais has certainly made headlines for himself, to put it mildly. In the blogsphere, few have nice things to say about him.

I’ve covered Rais as a reporter previously while he was the de-facto law minister and the foreign minister. He’s courteous, well-spoken and memorable for his precise diction and sometimes flowery language. He prefers speaking in Bahasa Malaysia. And flowery Bahasa Malaysia can prove a major headache to translate when writing up a news report in English.

But lately, I’ve had to scratch my head and wonder what Rais stands for. Some of his thoughts are so archaic — he was Information Minister from 1984 to 1986 — that I wonder how he landed the information and communications portfolio a second time.

Let’s review some of the headlines he’s created for Malaysia internationally in the five short months since taking up his new cabinet post.

bullet point 1Truth only.

One of the first things Rais told the public after assuming his new portfolio was that his ministry would ensure that only the “right kind of information” reached the masses. He said Malaysia would not have national success if people were misinformed. He also reminded private media companies and bloggers to obey the law.

Rais also argued that that combining information and communications under one portfolio would strengthen law enforcement.

Not available in reputable bookstores near you

Now, it’s clear to the rest of us that information and communications are two different things. One refers to content, and the other to technology. Different also, is information and propaganda, and Rais is probably more confused about this. He should let go of the thinking that people can be told what to think, or that people will buy into 1Truth about anything in this day and age. Rather than controlling how people think, allowing people to think for themselves will bring about national success faster.

bullet point Preoccupation with bloggers, but what about broadband rollout?

While Rais frets that the Malaysian masses will be poisoned with information other than the right kind, the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister is concerned that Malaysia will not meet its target of achieving 50% broadband penetration by next year, 2010. Penetration was at 26% as of April 2009. However, broadband technology is not under the ambit of the science and technology ministry. And Rais’s thinking that combining the information and communications portfolios is more effective is missing the point, as far as the real experts, Pikom (Association of Computer and Multimedia Industry) are concerned. Their proposal for a dedicated information and communications technology (ICT) ministry went unheeded.

bullet point Uphold the law at all cost, even if it’s illogically applied.

Hence, the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)’s investigation of online news website Malaysiakini for refusing to remove two videos related to the recent cow-head protest. The videos were of the protest itself and of Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein defending the protestors. According to MCMC, the videos were offensive and were intended to “annoy” people.

MCMC is under Rais’s ministry. Though Rais himself has not spoken about the investigation at all, his deputy Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum says the “public expects action to be taken”.

rais yatim
Does Rais understand the role of journalism? (©

Hmm. Do Rais and his deputy understand the role of journalism? Can they not distinguish the reporting of news from intent to annoy? How is intent to annoy to be proven on Malaysiakini‘s part when the news portal was just doing its job? Like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, is Malaysia to adopt an “Off with her head!” reaction to anything the government finds irritating?

Clearly, we know who’s annoyed by the videos and more revealingly, if MCMC’s logic is to be followed, it would seem that even the current administration overseeing MCMC finds Hishammuddin annoying.

bullet point Flip-flopping on internet filter.

China pulled back on its Green Dam internet filter, but that didn’t stop Rais from attempting to forge ahead with it. Rais confirmed online news reports of plans to install a filter but stressed that it would not be used against political dissent. We’ll never know now, will we? An about-turn was announced by Najib who said filtering would be ineffective.

Since internet filtering is not going to happen, what is of more concern is the way the various limbs of the federal government seem to be operating. Why does Rais propose something which contravenes the Multimedia Super Corridor’s Bill of Guarantees that promises that the internet will not be censored? What does it say about the cabinet’s cohesiveness when a minister can go on a limb with an idea only to have the prime minister shoot it down in public within 24 hours?

Black eyed peas group photo
The Black Eyed Peas (© CC BY 2.0 Nicolas Genin)

bullet point Adopt knee-jerk reactions to anything that involves alcohol.

And so it was that the Black Eyed Peas concert this Friday on 25 Sept 2009 was initially off-limits to Muslims. But since it isn’t the hip-hop group’s first performance in Malaysia, one can surmise that the reaction was to the sponsoring company, brewery Guinness. Item 7.1.2 of the Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes rules (Puspal) prohibits sponsorship of concerts by alcoholic beverage and tobacco companies. But a few days later, Rais said the concert was open to all, saying that the government had no legal powers to stop people from attending such events. He also said he left it to the “better judgement” of Muslims in deciding whether to attend the concert.

From being law-obsessed with the internet and bloggers, what’s become of the rules now? Was there a slip-up in enforcement? If an exception was made, Rais should say so and explain why. But more than that, it’s time to trust adults going to concerts to know what they can or cannot do according to their religion.

bullet point Money can be made to disappear if it is meant for an opposition-controlled state.

So the last prime minister wasn’t that popular. But that doesn’t mean that what Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi pledged while he was still in power can be flippantly cast aside. The former premier promised RM25 million for the heritage cities of Malacca and George Town in his 2009 Budget speech last year. But when Penang tried to remind the federal government of its promise, Rais said the allocation “does not exist” and that it was a “misconception”.

Well, it wasn’t magic after all, because the funds apparently do exist, according to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop. He said the funds have been given to Khazanah Nasional, the federal government’s investment arm, which is working with the Penang Municipal Council on an inventory of heritage sites.

So dear Rais, as minister of information, you really should check your facts, don’t you think?

Deborah Loh thinks Malaysia needs Beyoncé for its international image more than Beyoncé needs Malaysia for hers.

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14 Responses to “Tracking Rais”

  1. Donamos Romeiro says:

    Far from being the gentry that he sought to portray himself to be, his outburt at The Star reporter reflects the pompous and arrogant nature of the man that he truly is.

  2. jac smk says:

    “Now, it’s clear to the rest of us that information and communications are two different things. One refers to content, and the other to technology.”

    Actually, I would say that both are about content, except in communication, it’s ALSO about behaviour and practices. And in combining both information and communication, Najib’s government is trying to regulate the exchange of facts, news, information, personal/communal/collective opinions of multiple colours AND critically, [control] what people can or cannot do.

    Leaving it [in] the hands of Mosti (the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation) by saying it’s purely “technical” and therefore not a political issue (in all ways – not just formally), is dangerously naive. It plays into [submitting] our own power to shape and control ICT into [the hands of] technocrats, bureaucrats or corporations. The MCMC has way too much power, regulating content, practices, enforcement, policy, technological standards, licenses etc…. Who sits in the various committees and forums within them? They are meant to be “multi-stakeholder” – including civil society, but how are we represented there? Time to put them (and Rais) under the microscope and interrogate their scope and accountability. I’m guessing the internet and related spaces will shrink in more ways than one before the next elections.

    “Different also, is information and propaganda” – indeed!

  3. lim goh tong says:

    I find most Malaysian politicians prefer to “draw, shoot and aim”. In more developed countries, this [politician] would have been canned.

  4. ganesh says:

    He is the minister of disinformation and miscommunication.

    Considering the time he has been around, he should be dropped. He is a product of the bad old days and will never be able to change.

  5. Malaysian Circus says:

    At age 67 plus, this joker is fast approaching the senile elite group. No other capable Malaysian available to hold the post?

    Why did Najib pick him in the first place? Bad choice — another flip-flop clown as shown by his past statements! Bad for 1Malaysia concept.

    Er, Mr [Rais], take your pension and go write a book “The Art of Flip-Flopping” since that’s your specialty…

  6. Candy Wong says:

    Great article, well-written, even toned…would that our Culture Minister could be this civil! I found the bit about Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop’s statement re: Penang funds especially interesting. Thank you!

  7. Bondi says:

    This guy is a prat. He is SO yesterday!

  8. M.K. says:

    It clearly shows that we don’t really have good quality leaders running the country. Hence, the need for change…

  9. pei ling says:

    One of the notable conclusions I’ve derived from the article – an alcohol company is more powerful than a minister. The moral of the story: Show them the money!

  10. ben nordin says:

    You should add how Mr Rais “I have changed my mode” Yatim instructed the mainstream media to use the label “swine flu” instead of H1N1 because, according to him, the alpha numeric H1N1 is more difficult to pronounce. Pathetic, isn’t it?

  11. sywong says:

    Sad to say, but I always had, and still have, a very low opinion of this guy! He can be quite [ill-informed] most of the time!

  12. mrsfish says:

    He’s definitely past his shelf life and like Samy, is a certain liability.

  13. Eskay says:

    This guy may have obtained his PhD, but he really lacks the qualification to be a minister due to his consistent flip-flop decisions. Could he have bought his?

  14. veryupset says:

    Minister of Misinformation, Uninformation, or whatever profile he has… such an embarassment to Malaysia…!

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