This article was meant to appear in Sin Chew Jit Poh on the 9th March 2010. Instead it fell victim to the oft-wielded Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which incidentally is the subject of this spiked critique.
The following should have been my column for Sin Chew on Monday. They refused to publish it. Another victim of the chilling and arbitrary Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
Behind the grey mist of news reports concerning the supposed chaos within the ranks of the opposition, a grave danger has crept up almost unnoticed upon our constitutional guarantee of the freedom of speech.
Approximately two weeks ago, The Star was issued with a show cause letter from the Home Ministry. It gave the newspaper 14 days to reply as to why action should not be taken against it for publishing P. Gunasegaram’s article titled Persuasion, not compulsion which centered around the caning of three Muslim women for engaging in illicit sex.
Chilled by this threat from the Government, The People’s Paper apologized and further reacted last week by spiking Marina Mahathir’s article.
Marina, who refers to the article as The Column That Wasn’t, wrote about the jurisdictional power of the Syariah Courts and the problems caused by Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution. She also touched on the caning issue and some of the differences between the legislative processes behind the enactment of civil laws and Syariah laws.
Censorship offends the intelligence of the Malaysian people. It assumes that Malaysians are not able to think for themselves and respond to positions that they disagree with through rational debate. Censorship further cripples our ability to counter and respond to statements made by individuals and organizations that carry a different opinion.
In this regard, Utusan Malaysia has, for example, carried news reports, interviews and opinion pieces in support of the caning of Muslim women so why can’t others respond with their own points of view? Why can’t another Muslim like Marina Mahathir question the manner of enforcement of Syariah punishments in this country? Why can’t P. Gunasegaram give his own views from the perspective of a non-Muslim?
Censorship of this sort is authoritarian and will result in the creation of a nation without the ability to debate and express itself. It will rob us of the ability to correct an untruth either because we are too afraid or have lost the intellect to do so.
Utusan Malaysia has for years stoked the fires by playing the race and religion card in the most wanton of fashions. Despite having referring to non-Malay citizens as mere immigrants and stating that the Malays are not like Indians because the Malay blood is softer than the “keling” blood, Utusan Malaysia never received a show cause letter from the Home Ministry.
The closest it has come to being sanctioned was the gentle rebuke it received sometime last year from the Deputy Prime Minister who merely reminded Utusan that the position of every race in this country has to be respected. UMNO Supreme Council member, Nazri Aziz also criticized Utusan late last year and labeled the newspaper as outdated but there has always been a deafening silence from the Home Ministry.
The thing is that Utusan Malaysia may say whatever they want to say. That is their right. But you cannot strip away the right of others to respond just because certain quarters have made police reports about how their feelings have been hurt by a little debate.
The other odd thing about the Home Ministry’s show cause letter to The Star is the fact that in this information age, similar views as that expressed by Gunasegaram are a dime a dozen on the internet, albeit not as well written.
So apart from the futility of the whole exercise, there is also the point that the Government should not discriminate between views expressed online and views expressed in print. Something has to give and as the Government would take a million steps backward if it goes back on its assurance that the internet will never be censored, perhaps it should take a step forward and accept that it is time for the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to be repealed.
As a country, we have to embrace discourse and not shy away from responding rationally to criticism.
On another related issue, the Government also cannot assume a parental role over its citizens and keep embargoing books that criticize our leaders. It has to accept that it is a very small world we are living in where you can get almost anything you want. Many Malaysians have hopped over to Singapore to obtain the book Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times by Barry Wain while the Home Ministry still studies the contents of the book.
Let Mahathir sue the publisher or author for defamation if he deems it fit to do so. Better still let Mahathir respond to the author’s allegations and expose the book as a lie if it is really that.
Banning the book however is an act of cowardice which reflects the Government’s lack of confidence in its citizens.
LoyarBurok Editorial Note: The author has a bi-monthly column in Sin Chew Daily, appearing every other Monday. The articles are written in English and is translated into Mandarin for the printed version while the English version can be found on Sin Chew Daily’s English news portal, mysinchew.com, when it is not spiked.
Related articles: Yesterday it was reported that China Press was issued a show-cause letter under Section 8A of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (Act 301) by the Home Ministry. The Malaysian Insider’s report on the matter can be read here.
The Column That Wasn’t by Marina Mahathir