Was China Press punished - through the demanded sacking of its editors and the publishing of an apology that was drafted by and faxed over from the Internal Security Ministry - because it is a Chinese language newspaper?
The answer is yes and no.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the show-cause letter to China Press has not been racially motivated, but more to do with the irresponsible reporting that had caused embarrassment to the nation. By averring the Squatgate victim was a Chinese national, China Press had conveyed a bad impression to both the Chinese government and people, affecting good relations with Malaysia and tourism from China.
While that is in part true I do not accept this as sufficient justification for heavy-handedly ‘punishing’ the editors of the newspaper through the call for their sacking, for three reasons.
Firstly, the Internal Security ministers and senior police officers knew who the victim was even when China Press first published the news. Any one of them could have easily corrected the China Press news. But they deliberately chose not to, and therefore must carry the greater part of the blame. They were the one who had deliberately allowed the false picture to develop, for their own domestic political agenda.
Secondly, other newspapers had also published inaccurate news, sometimes of a very inflammatory nature. Where then was the punishment or admonition? Surely 'hitting' the editors of China Press is double standards.
Thirdly, the Deputy PM may claimed the publishing of incorrect facts about Squatgate created a brouhaha, with national interest being affected. But because the Internal Security ministers themselves and senior police officers had deliberately chosen not to reveal the victim’s identity when China Press and other Malaysian newspapers including the Malay language ones averred the Squatgate victim was a Chinese national, we may take it that those ministers would have already assessed the consequential fallout as of a temporary nature and acceptable.
We may also take it that the ministers had considered the international damage as more preferable than the domestic damage associated with the revealing of the victim's identity. If so, why should China Press or its editors be punished?
I believe the reasons to extract some form of symbolic blood, with China Press selected as the fall-guy, have more to do with:
(1) Distracting attention from the fact that some UMNO ministers had deliberately kept the victim’s identity under warps for their own agenda even as the scandal assumed international infamy.
(2) Internal UMNO politics associated with the coming Cabinet reshuffle where it’s traditional and obligatory for some UMNO ministers to show their ethnic warrior qualities, and probably to hide their involvement in the deliberate delay in revealing the Squatgate victim's identity.
(3) Distracting attention from the FACT that police conduct in Squatgate, regardless of what nationality the victim is, has been heinous and completely unacceptable.
(4) Hopefully bringing closure to Squatgate - by shooting the messenger as the nominated culprits, the action may possibly mask the true culprits of the abuse (and also the deliberate concealment of the victim's identity when it mattered).
and lastly, only as a side benefit,
(5) Reminding any too-independent-minded news media to be careful how they thread insofar as the government is concerned.
The China Press editors? Just collateral damage in the greater scheme of things. Najib is in a way right in saying it’s not racially motivated, but who then should the ministers have demanded as a red-herring sacrifice?
Surely not Utusan Malaysia?