COMMENT | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was at the launch of the "Visit Truly Asia Malaysia 2020", at KLIA, when he urged Malaysians to speak up and show their support for concerts that have the potential to attract tourists to the country.
He told those people who enjoyed such events not to allow their voices to be drowned out by the spoilsports and doom-mongers.
KT note: Commander (rtd) S Thayaparan in another column called Mahathir's advice as a mendacious rhetoric - for more see my earlier post Was Mahathir's rhetoric a mendacious attempt?
We know that in the past the tours of some artistes were cancelled because they had long hair, or their tattoos insulted some Muslims. Others had to comply with extra conditions, like not dancing on stage, or wearing skimpy clothing, before the events were given the go-ahead.
In most countries, Mahathir's request would have sounded odd. In Malaysia, nobody is shocked.
He should be aware that he is partly responsible for our reticence and reluctance to speak out. For decades, Malaysians lived in fear of expressing an opinion, or reporting corruption and other abuses of power.
Some are still haunted by the nightmare of Operasi Lalang, which was conducted during Mahathir’s first premiership.
In this nationwide sweep, in 1987, academicians, politicians, drama teachers and reporters were arrested and imprisoned under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA).
Publications lost their printing licences and newspapers, like The Star, were forcibly shut. The Star never regained its reporting edge, when it finally resumed operations.
Anyone who felt their freedom was at risk simply fled the country. I have met a number of professionals who had to resume their careers overseas, often starting from scratch.
So, today, we are as meek as mice.
Parents told their children to keep their heads down and focus on their studies, to not get involved in politics and do nothing to break the rice bowl. Our parents' generation endured the brunt of the crackdown on the freedom of expression and so, today we are as meek as mice. Obedient.
Kowtowing to our bosses, whilst inside, we rage and eventually run amok.
So, has anything changed, in the Malaysian media world, after GE14? It has been 14 months, since the Pakatan Harapan government came to power, but do members of the press feel the same sense of freedom, to report news and express views without fear or favour?
Promise of increased press freedom
Under the previous Umno-Baru/BN administration, the alternative media, which was often critical of the ruling government, would find their offices raided, or broken into, and their computers seized by the authorities.
Supporters of the government, harassed the reporters, thus prompting a temporary closure of their offices.
Have reporters adjusted to the promises of freedom in reporting, or are they still forced to toe the party line?
One year ago, at a talk to students and the Malaysian diaspora in London, the visiting Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu (above) delighted his audience, by urging them to continue to criticise the Harapan administration.
Malaysians willingly responded but ironically, some politicians are now trying to censor the press. There are allegations that they have sent their aides, or macais, to speak with the publications and newspapers, to protect their egos.
So, how true is the GE14 election promise of increased press freedom?
At last year's “Malaysian Press Night 2018”, for the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI)-Petronas Journalism Awards, Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah urged the press to play a critical role in the nation’s political transition to a mature democratic country.
Claiming that his government was more open and willing to embrace press freedom, Saifuddin said: “Journalists do not have to worry about receiving calls from the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office), or other ministers.
“In fact, it is okay to hold more debates. Hopefully, no editor will be summoned anymore, just because some pictures are ‘not interesting enough’.”
Few would disagree, but some believe that there has been little change.
Saifuddin omitted to remind one group of people about embracing press freedom.
They are the religious extremists, who make it their business to lodge police reports and picket outside the premises of the publisher. They make the lives of reporters, a misery.
These bullies dislike what has been written, because they believe that issues that they consider to be "sensitive" should never be discussed.