(pic courtesy of theSun)
IN just a week, Datuk Seri Najib Razak would have been prime minister of Malaysia for exactly a year. Twelve months down the line and all I really want to ask him is, “Will the real Najib please stand up?”
After all, we know that the sixth premier of Malaysia is intelligent and competent. Definitely not clueless. And so, when Najib-speak doesn’t quite match up to what’s really happening on the ground, one really has to wonder. Is Najib-speak for real? Is Najib for real? And if there are discernible discrepancies between the projected Najib and the real Najib, what exactly is Najib all about?
As a journalist of more than 15 years, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me came last week. At a press award ceremony on 19 March 2010, Najib took the opportunity to declare that it was grossly unfair to state that Malaysia lacked press freedom.
Those working in the Malaysian media should know better…
Now, those of us who work in the media, even in the government-owned or Barisan Nasional-linked media, know that if Najib were Pinocchio, he would have needed corrective plastic surgery the minute he said that.
The fact is, there have been ample instances where it was clear that the government, under the previous and the current administration, curbs press freedom. One just needs to read The Nut Graph‘s compilation of these instances to know that Najib’s nose would have grown long indeed at that award ceremony.
But more startling than the disconnect between what’s been happening and Najib’s declaration is this: It’s been barely a month since both The Star and China Press were both issued show-cause letters under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA). Now, surely, Najib, who has been in government for half his life, is aware of the PPPA. And surely, he knows that under the PPPA, the home minister can suspend or shut down a newspaper’s operations with no legal recourse. And that was why those show-cause letters to The Star and China Press were so troubling.
(pic by Tara Sosrowardoyo)
Indeed, it isn’t surprising that columnist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir was spiked by The Star, and one hears even columnist Zainah Anwar’s column has been held back pending word about the paper’s publishing permit.
For certain, self-censorship is one strategy that the media the world over uses in order to survive governments that would restrict an independent and free press. And so the fact that the No.1 English daily in the country has to resort to self-censorship in order to ensure its survivability just reeks of media control by the government.
And so I wonder, did Najib not know about these recent incidents? Was he badly advised by his aides? Did he forget? What can we surmise from his bold declaration that Malaysia enjoys press freedom and responsibility that the world’s media can learn from?
Here is what I think: Either our prime minister was clueless or he wasn’t. And if he wasn’t, and I’m wont to think that this prime minister is sharper than some others we’ve had, then Najib was being disingenuous. Or he was lying. Either way, it would be hard to trust a person who was being either.
Hishammuddin Hussein (pic courtesy of theSun)But apart from Najib’s big, bold statement about the state of Malaysia’s media, how else do we measure what this prime minister is all about a year into his administration?They say that we can tell a person’s character from the company she or he keeps. By the same token, we can tell what a prime minister is all about by who she or he appoints and keeps in the cabinet.
And unfortunately for Najib, the company he keeps in cabinet is less than inspiring.
Najib’s home minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, is not only incompetent but also sanctions violence through his actions and inactions. Indeed, Hishammuddin also defended the caning of three Muslim women under syariah law for “illicit sex” just six months after Najib decried the use of syariah caning in the case of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno.
“#yorais” is still being used on Twitter to make fun of
the information ministerThe prime minister also has an information minister who is so out of sync with the times that he is the butt of merciless jokes on the net.
And then there’s the minister in charge of religion whose idea of dialogue over the “Allah” issue is that non-Muslim groups must back down even as Najib goes on his merry way to promote 1Malaysia. Not only that, minister Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom is actually an advisor to the Malaysian Assembly of Mosque Youth (Mamy). Mamy is the group which is seeking a court order to prevent Sisters in Islam (SIS) from using “Islam” in its name and identity, as if the word was copyrighted and belonged to only a select group of Muslims. As one Twitterer remarked, why not just ban SIS from using the word “sisters” since none of its members are actually sisters.
My question is, what is Najib doing with these ministers? For all intents and purposes, they seem to be undermining his leadership and his stated vision for the nation. And if that were the case, which CEO would stand by and let his or her lieutenants undermine his or her leadership?
Unless, of course, the plan is for Najib to come out smelling like roses while his ministers continue to do the divisive and oppressive work that Malaysians have been subjected to under Umno’s dominant rule. Perhaps a game of good cop vs bad cop?
(pic of Hishammudin Hussein and Najib Razak courtesy of theSun)
Except that with the contradictions becoming more and more evident in Najib’s administration, I wonder just how our prime minister is going to continue managing the illusion that he really is the good cop.
Jacqueline Ann Surin wants an honest prime minister.
Read previous Shape of a Pocket columns