Tuesday, August 22, 2017

More freedom now than Dr M’s era? That’s rubbish

More freedom now than Dr M’s era? That’s rubbish, Zahid told

 | August 22, 2017
Veteran newsmen say press freedom is worse today than it was during former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad's time.
zam-maidin-zahidPETALING JAYA: Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is wrong in claiming that press freedom is better now than when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in power, said two veteran newsmen.
Former Utusan Malaysia group editor-in-chief Zainuddin Maidin said when he was running the daily, then prime minister Mahathir had made time to meet media practitioners at least once a month.
The meetings often centred on discussions of national issues, during which the opinions of journalists were not only listened to, but also respected, he said.
“We also had the freedom to write about opposition leaders. An example was when the late Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat won the post of Kelantan menteri besar.
“We interviewed him and ran the stories three days in a row. The publications were all sold out, although other state leaders started questioning why they weren’t allocated the same amount of space.
“But for me, I wanted to make Utusan a daily that represented the voice of the people, instead of the way it is now, which is Umno’s mouthpiece,” he told FMT.
Mahathir did not give him a hard time for running the stories on Nik Aziz, neither did he stop Utusan from reporting on Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah when the latter went against him in the 1987 Umno party elections, said Zainuddin.
He said unlike today’s Utusan, the opposition leaders were also allowed to have their views aired in the Malay daily, in line with his goal to make Utusan bi-partisan.
“That’s why Utusan had high circulation then. Mahathir, although some said he had controlled the media, never did so.”
Zainuddin, who later became information minister, said present Umno ministers such as Zahid should not talk about matters they were not well informed about.
“Mahathir didn’t disturb the daily tasks of the journalists then. He didn’t make phone calls telling us what we can and cannot do.
“So Zahid doesn’t know what he is talking about.”
Zahid, who is also the home minister, said yesterday that a former prime minister had, during his tenure, set and controlled the agenda of national news agencies.
This is unlike the prime ministers who came after him, who allowed these agencies the freedom to report as they wanted, said Zahid.
Although he did not name anyone, it was believed that he was referring to Mahathir, the longest-serving prime minister who led the country for more than 22 years.
We are being sued by Najib, the first time a sitting prime minister has sued a media organisation, says Gan.
Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan, when contacted, expressed the same view.
He said from the experiences of those working in the news portal, press freedom is worse today than it was during Mahathir’s time.
“While we were raided in 2003, and 19 of our computers were seized at the tail end of Mahathir’s era, no charges were laid against us.
“However, we were raided a number of times in recent years, and charges have been filed against me and Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran.
“In addition, we are being sued by Najib Razak, the first time a sitting prime minister has sued a media organisation,” said Gan.