|RK Anand | Apr 17, 08 4:14pm
|An eerie silence enveloped the Makkal Osai office last night. Save for a few staff, the rest had returned home to ponder over their future.
The usually busy editorial floor was deserted when Malaysiakini visited the Tamil daily’s office in Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur.
The daily was informed via a letter from the Home Ministry yesterday that its printing permit will not be reviewed. No reason was given.
While industry sources claimed that the move could be related to the daily providing extensive coverage to the opposition, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar today said Makkal Osai was punished for raising sensitive issues which can threaten racial harmony.
The newspaper is also noted for giving prominence to the Makkal Sakthi (People’s power) movement which was born out of the Nov 25 street rally organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).
Sources claimed that Makkal Osai – which is closely linked to former MIC deputy president S Subramaniam – had ruffled feathers in Putrajaya by publishing a photograph of detained Hindraf leader P Uthayakumar in hospital.
Uthayakumar was among five Hindraf leaders detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on Dec 13.
When met, the daily’s staff expressed much anxiety over the situation. “Our future hangs in the balance,” they said.
Meanwhile, Makkal Osai general manager SM Periasamy said the staff were shocked when informed of the ministry’s decision.
However, he refused to speculate on why this happened.
“We were informed about the decision at about 12 noon by fax and a telephone call from the ministry.
“Immediately, I went to the office (ministry) to check, we were given this letter … I asked (the official) for the reasons, (he said) it is a decision by the ministry we cannot elaborate but you can appeal.”
Periasamy said the daily’s office has been inundated with calls from all over the country.
He also lamented that the ministry’s decision came at a time when Makkal Osai – which means ‘voice of the people’ – had become popular among the Indian community.
The general manager hoped that the government will take into consideration the plight of the staff involved and reconsider its decision.
On its news coverage, Periasamy said the daily focussed on issues related to the Indians.
“It can be opposition news. We are a commercial paper, so of course, we give prominence to Indian-based stories. So now with the opposition influencing the Indians more … we take it as news, we also carry a lot of other party news.”
Makkal Osai is expected to file an appeal today. The daily’s permit had expired on Oct 15 last year and it had submitted an application for renewal three months before that.
Periasamy said the daily has been operating on the understanding that the government was in the process of looking through the application.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar however denied that his decision was not related to Hindraf.
In a related development, several quarters including those from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition have voiced concern over the government’s decision.
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director V Gayathry and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) chairperson Wong Chin Huat.
This sparks worry as the government shows no signs of reforming towards greater openness and to be more attentive to the voices of the community.
As the paper gave relatively more coverage to the opposition during the general election, the ban gives basis to the impression that this is a “punishment” by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
The ban might be the start of a witch-hunt by the BN to clampdown on stronger voices following the elections.
Makkal Osai‘s fate sends a strong signal to other government controlled-papers, some of which have started relaxing their routine blackout of the opposition and called for greater media independence.
The government must immediately lift the ban on Makkal Osai and stop any attempt to control public discussion and expression.
We also call upon the Pakatan Rakyat to issue a stronger rejection of these tactics and to offer the owners of Makkal Osai an opportunity to publish in the states where the coalition governs in a bid to save the newspaper.
We call for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act which has shackled the media and jopardised the state of press freedom in Malaysia.
MIC president S Samy Vellu
I am said this has happened. I don’t know why they (the ministry) did this. But the (the daily’s management) can appeal.
MCA central committee member Wong Nai Chee
I disagree with the decision by the Home Ministry to reject the renewal of Makkal Osai’s publishing permit without stating any obvious reasons.
The Home Ministry’s decision is not rational and will paint a negative perception that the government is trying to get even with the said newspaper.
As long as newspapers report based on facts, the Home Ministry does not have a valid reason to stop renewing the publishing permit for any newspaper. The ministry should at least state the reasons clearly whether the newspaper has violated the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act or Internal Security Act.
Otherwise, it becomes difficult for the government to convince the public on the reasons for not renewing the publishing permit. Furthermore, it may cause the international rating for Malaysia’s press freedom to drop.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary general G Rajasekaran
MTUC urges the home minister to reconsider his decision not to renew the publication permit for Makkal Osai.
It was reported that no reason was cited for the denial of the permit. Even though the minister is armed with legal powers, it is most unfair to reject their application arbitrarily.
MTUC is deeply concerned over the fate of the 102 employees whose livelihood is dependent on their continued employment and income. We urge the minister to consider the hardship that would be imposed on the families of the employees.
If the publication has willfully breached any of the conditions of the permit then the ministry should inform the publishers accordingly. There are adequate provisions in the act to penalise individuals concerned rather than shut down the whole operation without any regard for the welfare of the 102 families.
The Home Ministry’s action against Makkal Osai confirms the numerous criticism that the government uses the requirement on all publications to obtain permits every year, to intimidate and curtail freedom of the media.
DAP Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran
The ban on Makkal Osai is shocking not only because the Home Ministry bureaucrats arrogantly refused to give a reason for the ban, but it comes at a time when the people have clearly indicated through the March 8 polls that they want a new Malaysia where press freedom is a central pillar.
The banning of the paper indicates that the Umnoputras who dominate the federal government and bureaucracy have not learnt their lesson from Makkal Shakthi or people’s power shown on March 8.
The ban is also unacceptable because it is against fundamental liberties guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.
The officials who made this unfair and unjust decision must be made accountable for their action. They must either defend their decision or be sacked.
All lovers of democracy in Malaysia are shocked by the ban. The newspaper had given fair and free coverage to all political parties – opposition and government – in a manner that had won praise from its readers and the Indian community at large.
I urge the government to immediately restore the publishing license of Makkal Osai not just because the future of the employees are at stake but also to tell the world that we are a civilised nation and practice freedom of the press.
With this ban i feel worse things are waiting to happen like a further crackdown by the government? I will raise this matter in Parliament to ensure the paper’s license is restored without delay.
I will also campaign for the abolition of the need for newspapers to have publishing licenses.
The Printing Presses and Publications Act is undemocratic and against the interest of the people and has been used by the ruling Umno party to instill fear and curb freedom of the press. It must be abolished.
Worse for Malaysia, this anti-press freedom action comes when Malaysia is at the bottom rank of the World Press Freedom Index.
In the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index 2007 Malaysia plunged 32 notches, a sad indication of the repressive atmosphere under the administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
MIC Central Working Committee (CWC) member S Murugesan
The Home Ministry must provide reasons for the ban. The ministry must be very careful and weigh things properly before taking such drastic action.
They should not curtail freedom of expression unless it infringes the law and threatens national security.
In the absence of any valid reasons, the ban should be lifted. I am saddened that a paper has been banned especially since Makkal Osai had a big readership among the Indian community.
Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar
We are very sad that such a thing has happened, Makkal Osai is the heartbeat of the Tamil readers. Being a vernacular paper, they cannot run away from Indian issues.
The Hindraf issue is not only an Indian issue but a Malaysian issue. By catering for the Indians, obviously Makkal Osai has to bring out the good and bad about Hindraf. They have been fair in their reporting.
The daily has given prominence to BN leaders as well. The Anwar Ibrahim issue is also a national issue. The paper is in business not social work. So in competing with their rivals they have to provide news of value and report on current issues to maintain profitability.
The Indian community needs to be kept updated on all the issues related to their future progress. Makkal Osai has been in touch with issues concerning the grassroots and poor Indians.
Makkal Osai is a good instrument which must be allowed to operate with the freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution.
Any quarter which is not happy can resort to legal action instead of banning the daily. This is unfair. What about the fate of the employees?
This move will only further anger the Indian community which is already seeing red over several government policies.