By P Ramakrishnan
Ramakrishnan condemns PN for denying online news portals from reporting the proceedings of parliament. The rakyat should be informed about the issues being discussed in parliament, especially with Budget 2021 and how our money is being spent to deal with Malaysia’s trillion ringgit national debt.
First, the backdoor government reduced the number of days that parliament could meet; then the hours were reduced for the proceedings; this is followed by a curtailment of MPs who could be present in the chambers at any one time – reducing the number to 80 MPs, which represented a mere 36 per cent out of the 222 elected MPs who could debate the Budget 2021. Now they have banned online news portals from reporting the proceedings of parliament. As a result, there has been a total blackout of news from parliament the last five days.
Famous and familiar news portals like Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today, Malay Mail Online, Malaysia Chronicle and others were not able to provide reports from parliament. These portals would instantaneously bring us news, summary, comments and in-depth analysis and kept us abreast with the implications of what is proposed in parliament. This opportunity to be well-informed was buried by keeping them away from parliament and denying them their presence to report.
Previous sessions of parliaments under the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan governments did not prevent online news portals from reporting the proceedings of parliament. It is only on this occasion, this Third Term of the 14th Parliament session at the third sitting under the backdoor government that Malaysians are denied their right to know what is happening during the parliamentary session.
Our right to information has been deliberately denied undemocratically and in a sinister manner. This is something we cannot – and will not – accept meekly. The PN government will be made to pay dearly for this at the GE15.
It costs the taxpayers a bomb every time parliament meets and yet we are now denied news regarding what takes place in parliament. We would like to know what is being discussed and what is being decided. We would like to know what policies are being debated and how they would benefit the people and country.
The Budget 2021 is very important and will impact the country tremendously. We would like to know where the money will be coming from for financing the projects under the Budget. If money has to be borrowed for this, the burden of settling the debt has to be borne by taxpayers. We, who have to shoulder this burden, have a right to this information.
It is alleged that the domestic debt stands at over a trillion ringgit. How will this be settled and where will the money come from? What taxes are going to be imposed or increased to raise the much-needed money to service this monstrous debt? It is we, our children and grandchildren who will be saddled with this burden for many, many years.
All this useful information has been blacked out by totally banning online news portals. These news portals used to provide up-to-date news almost immediately to a nation that looks forward to this information with much expectation. A total ban on the entire online news portals would imply a deliberate decision to keep Malaysians in the dark. This is nothing but suppression of information to keep the people ignorant.
Why this discrimination? Why only allow government-owned or government-linked media agencies access to parliament? Is it because these agencies are capable of reporting one-sided news that will project the backdoor government in a better light?
The coverage of the current parliament proceedings has been limited to the following 14 local news agencies and one foreign agency: Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), Bernama, TV Al-Hijrah, TV3, New Straits Times, Berita Harian, Astro Awani, Utusan Malaysia, Sinar Harian, The Star, The Sun, Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, Malaysia Nanban and Channel News Asia.
From the list, it would appear that the state is determined to control the narrative of how and by whom information is to be made available to the public by totally excluding news portals “which operate exclusively on line”.
The executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Wathshlah G Naidu, demanded, “We would like to ask how Parliament determined which media should be allowed to cover the proceedings. In particular, why online news portals were sidelined?”
The president of the National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ) Farah Marshita Abdul Patah asserted, “Based on the principle of media freedom and transparent government, local portals should be given the same voice and right to provide coverage, especially on issues involving national interest.”
According to Farah Marshita the decision to limit the number of media agencies would only give the impression that the media was still under government and political control.
The Editors’ Association (Chinese Medium) Malaysia, in a statement called for a review. It said there was ample space in Parliament to allow journalists to perform their duties while complying with Covid-19 measures.
There is a wide range of disenchantment with the backdoor government for interfering with the functioning of the online portals and denying them their right to report news from parliament.
Malaysians demand that the online news portals be granted their rightful role to report the proceedings from parliament.
Noam Chomsky, the noted journalist, rightly observed, “He who controls the media controls the minds of the public.”
Added to this, there is yet a greater danger as stated by Christopher Dodd, “When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)