First they came for old media, then …

  • Shocking suspension of The Heat has dire consequences for all citizens
  • Merely the latest attempt by the Administration to smother freedom of expression

First they came for old media, then …WE’VE all heard the original, or many variants since, of the poem by Protestant pastor and social activist Martin Niemöller, with the closest translation to English from its original German being:
 

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

 
Niemöller’s poem was written about the Nazi party’s rise to power, and the apathy of German intellectuals during that period, but it certainly feels that way in Malaysia right now.
 
The only people speaking out are the usual suspects: The independent online media, Opposition politicians, civil rights advocates, media watchdogs and the concerned citizenry – the voices the Malaysian Government has always felt comfortable ignoring.
 
We’re talking about the Home Ministry’s suspension of weekly newsmagazine The Heat. The ministry, after declining to comment at first, finally released a statement saying that the publication was suspended because it had failed to inform the ministry of its change in ownership, and because its format was not what its permit had been approved for, saying that it looked more like a newspaper than a magazine.
 
The Heat is owned by Petaling Jaya-based HCK Media. It was launched in September, in the same format, which took three months for the Home Ministry to apparently notice – just after the publication had run a story on the Prime Minister and his wife, and their spending habits, coincidentally.
 
As was noted by The Malaysian Insider, The Heat had been issued two show-cause letters, for reasons that have not been disclosed to the voting public, and the suspension took place before the two-week deadline to respond had passed.
 
Did I say ‘voting public’? Stupid me. The next election is about five years away. That’s five years of carte blanche for the current administration to do away with all that nonsense talk about transformation and democracy.
 
After all, it was Prime Minister Najib Razak himself who promised political reforms, and said part of it was freeing up the media to do its proper job as the Fourth Estate. So yeah, the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) was amended, and the fact that these changes were merely cosmetic is now proven.
 
It’s a given fact that the Barisan Nasional-led Government has always been more wary of the print media than online media, even if it did make an effort to bring the latter under its steel-shod heel, and continues to do so. It may not have a PPPA-equivalent sledgehammer for the online media as it has for the print world, but it will do everything in its power to intimidate the online media, its practitioners and the people who contribute to it.
 
As was pointed out in another article by The Malaysian Insider, quoting Lawyers for Liberty cofounder Eric Paulsen:
 

On October 4, news portal Malaysiakini had said that Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had attempted to intimidate its journalist at a press conference.
 
A month later, online columnist Mariam Mokhtar was similarly threatened by the nation’s top cop Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar over an article she wrote about the police’s handling of Siti Aishah Abdul Wahab, who was allegedly a slave in London for 30 years.

 
This is in addition to numerous attempts to introduce legislation that would make the online media, and even individual citizens active on social media, answerable to the Government.
 
The civil advocates and media watchdogs have spoken. The Opposition politicians have spoken, fearing a crackdown. The online media have produced the kind of coverage such a suspension deserves (while the print media, with the sword of Damocles hanging over them, have been relatively, and not surprisingly, quiet).
 
Even the concerned citizenry have spoken out, usually on social media, but some even taking to the streets on Dec 22 for a flash mob organised by Jingga 13, a group closely aligned to Opposition party Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party).
 
When are the rest going to speak out? Because if this government has its way and successfully brings the online media as well to heel, as it has done with the mainstream media and especially courageous publications like The Heat, who’s going to be left to speak for you when they do come for you?
 
Related Stories:
 
Online has most balanced GE13 coverage: Media watchdog
 
MCMC a ‘toothless tiger’ and other Parliament shenanigans
 
Adverse effects of online clampdown by SEA governments

 
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