Closure of Malaysian Tamil daily ‘dictatorial’

April 18th, 2008 - 4:40 pm ICT by admin  

Kuala Lumpur, April 18 (IANS) The Malaysian government has said the ethnic Indian-owned Tamil language daily “Makkal Osai” was denied permission to publish because of its failure to abide by guidelines for the media pertaining to issues threatening racial harmony. The guidelines, among others, stipulate that “newspapers should not raise sensitive issues that could threaten racial harmony and the country’s stability”, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar was quoted as saying in The Sun Friday.

On whether the non-renewal of permission to the newspaper would anger the Indian community even further against his government, Albar said even if people were angry and felt marginalised, it was important that they did not stoke up sentiments which could cause tension and misunderstanding among the races, The Star newspaper said.

The decision had nothing to do with the newspaper’s coverage of the opposition parties’ viewpoints, he said Thursday.

“We have media guidelines, and we do not simply cancel a publication permit. In the case of Makkal Osai, we did not cancel the permit but decided not to extend it,” Albar explained.

However, he added that Makkal Osai could appeal to the Information Ministry for reconsideration of the decision.

Malaysia being a multi-racial, multi-religious country, he said there were sensitive issues, which was why there were all these guidelines for the media, The Star newspaper said.

The opposition in Malaysia termed the decision ‘dictatorial’ and sought a review.

Indian-origin lawmaker and chief of the Democratic Action party (DAP) Karpal Singh said the government’s refusal to renew Makkal Osai’s printing and publishing permit would be viewed negatively by the international community.

Penang state’s chief minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng described the federal government’s action as “dictatorial” and “outdated”.

“The ministry claimed the newspaper had violated certain guidelines… but which guidelines? This action is a violation of basic human rights,” he asked.

“I hope this move was not done out of vengeance by trying to find fault with the newspaper. If they reported something negative, blame yourself for doing something wrong and not the newspaper.

“Today it is Makkal Osai but tomorrow? They could decide to do this to English, Malay and even Chinese newspapers,” he said.

The reaction of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) that is part of the federal government and the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional was measured.

MIC chief S. Samy Vellu said: “I am sorry about it. I do not know why they did it. But the newspaper can always appeal against the decision.”

He was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times: “The ministry should also not ignore the plight of more than 100 Makkal Osai employees.”

“The Barisan Nasional government should not, in the wake of its poor showing in the recent general election, be seen to be going on a witch hunt,” he added.

Makkal Osai General Manager S. Periaswamy said he hoped to meet Albar Monday next.

“As far as we know, we adhered to all conditions set by the ministry but if there was any violation on our part, we apologise,” he said, adding that he had also apologised in the appeal letter.

Begun as a weekly in 1981 as Tamil Osai, the journal turned a daily newspaper in 2005. It is owned by businessmen close to MIC, as per media reports.

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