Najib’s theatre of dreams

As speeches go, the prime minister struck all the right chords last week at the National Press Club awards night. It would have been a cracker of a speech — had it come from someone else or made in another setting. A cracker of a speech to eager-beaver young cadet reporters, a valedictory speech to journalism graduates, or even as a half-time dressing-room pep talk.

Sadly it was not a championship coach speaking, but a prime minister being undercut even as he spoke by those ostensibly on his watch. It could have been worse: it might have been made by that oaf, his deputy, or that motor-trade Johnny waiting stage right.

Sadly, too, it was aimed mainly at online irregulars whose loyalty is projected at a price, and to a working press who toil quite comfortably in newsrooms owned and operated by various limbs of the corporatist-state that the prime minister attempts vainly to steer.

Reichstag Perdana, a Potemkim theatre of dreams

But the ship of state is a ponderous rotting hulk, not a nimble kayak.

And so, as speeches go, it just…went.

I don’t know if anyone listening to his speech that night felt a sudden onset of vertigo, such are the giddy heights of the prime minister’s annual recital of the free-press creed.

Reading the NST’s abridged version the next morning, though, brought to mind my old Sixth Form English Lit master explaining what Coleridge meant by a willing “suspension of disbelief” — that state of mind required when reading poetry or fiction, of Xanadu or the second-hand thoughts of Reichstag Putrajaya.

As with Najib’s grand declarations of intent in 2009, over-reaching ambition was quite apparent in a speech that was excellent in parts, as the curate once said; therein the problem: those are the very parts that others don’t reach and won’t. Continue reading


Another doctored Bernama photo of Najib crowd

Sept 19 update: Bernama takes down suspicious photo

Another Bernama photo has been called into question for being doctored (Photoshopped) to pad up a crowd at a function for Umno president Najib Tun Razak.

Two weeks ago, opposition politicians accused Bernama of having doctored a photograph of a Hari Raya crowd at the prime minister’s open house in Putrajaya: Bernama’s editor and photo desk denied it.

Then yesterday another Bernama photo started making the rounds on Facebook, with a suspicious portion on the upper left corner highlighted. The photo was of Najib Tun Razak meeting well-wishers at a constituency function in Pekan, and had been used by the New Straits Times with its report on Page 2. Continue reading

The high and the mighty in Putridjaya

Also entitled The Dandy and the Beano


Najib’s annual insult to the press — carry out fearless, open journalism

Najib Tun Razak made his fourth annual insulting appearance before the establishment media last Wednesday at the NPC press awards night, the second of two annual festivals of self-congratulation. (» Not a 9-5 job)

Keeping up his administration’s style, there was more bombast from the prime minister to provide a fine hand-polished gloss over the mean and vicious vindictiveness in his party and in the nomenclatura of his shambolic government and the party’s loyal cadre of right-wing attack dogs.

For the fourth year running, his speech at a press awards night dealt with the noblest principles and aims of journalism and free media — most of which, in practice, the establishment media either wilfully ignore or subvert, either on instruction or out of self-preservation.

Here are some typical quotes from his speech to the National Press Club: Continue reading

Najib promises to let them rape Penang again

No business like hub business

• 2007: Abdullah — logistics hub
• 2008: Guan Eng — outsourcing hub
• 2009: Guan Eng — halal hub
• 2009: Guan Eng — air cargo hub
• 2010: Ramasamy — education hub
• 2010: Najib — regional hub
• 2012: Najib — development hub

Proof that politicians love to go round in circles

You know elections are near when politicians dust off old speeches and make headlines with vague promises of "transformation". That’s what the prime minister did on Sunday, making old news with an old speech about “transforming” Penang, and turning Penang into an economic hub.

Almost every year since 2007, someone has said just about the same thing. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi turned up in 2007 promising to turn Penang into a logistics hub and a “global city”. That was a plug for Patrick “Badawi” Lim’s grand vision to plunder the turf club land.

The next year Lim Guan Eng came into office and said Penang would be an outsourcing hub. He’s also kept on talking about turning Penang into a “world city”, and an “intelligent city” whatever that was.

Then it was Najib’s turn to talk about hubs, in 2010 and on Sunday.

Maybe they didn’t know that Penang has been a trading and commercial centre, a hub if you will, for 200 years, doing business with Aceh and Sumatra, Thailand, Burma, India, feeding the northern region through its port, buying and selling rice, rubber and tin, and for 40 years making and selling electronics products to the world.

And all that without much federal help. Were they all asleep all this while? Continue reading

New law to control press, and a promise to hobble Internet

Press awards

Salim Kajai award
Mohd Asron Mustapha and Mohd Termizi Che Anuar (Utusan Malaysia)

News Reporting
Elan Perumal (The Star)

News Photography
Azhar Mahfof and Kamarul Ariffin Hassan (The Star)

Investigative Journalism
Pearl Lee (Malay Mail)

News Video
R. Puspavathy and Nor Azizul Mohd Isa (TV3)

Documentary Video
Shaharil Kadir and Aji Saregar Mazlan (TV3)

International Reporting
Iskandar Alang Bendahara
(New Straits Times)

Public Service Reporting
Bavani Mahalingam (The Star)

Environmental Reporting
Yip Yoke Teng (The Star)

Feature Writing
Hasan Omar (Berita Harian)

Chok Suat Ling
(New Sunday Times)
Azmi Anshar
(New Straits Times)

Malaysia’s flailing politically-owned newspapers, unable to compete against the freewheeling online press, blogs and unrestrained chatter on social media, have now managed to extract from the government a promise to hobble the online media, instead of expanding the boundaries of press freedom.

At the same time, the government announced it would be introducing a new law to control the press through a Press Coumcil, which it claimed would practise self-regulation.

Details of the new law were not revealed.

The two announcements came as a severe contrast to the prime minister’s proud boast 10 days ago when he claimed credit for Malaysia’s seeming rise in a world press freedom index » What Najib Doesn’t Want You To Know About Press Freedom).

Last night, at the Malaysian Press Institute awards ceremony, the prime minister said: “The government cannot be viewed as practising double standards in its rules towards the printed and digital media.”

That plainly means he is giving in to the demands of Utusan Malaysia and NSTP groups and The Star who have at various times bleated about how unfair it was that newspapers were regulated by press laws while Internet outfits operate under a strict promise of no censorship.

Failing to end press controls, the newspaper companies sought instead to get the government to repress the Internet.

Najib’s promise to control the Internet came in a vaguely-worded paragraph in which he said that the government “will carry out a comprehensive study for the need for an act such as existing ones to take into account of the development in information communication technology”, according to Malaysiakini.

It is the second vague concession to newspapers in six months. In September, the prime minister announced he would withdraw the current requirement for annual newspaper licences, and revert instead to the pre-1988 one-off licences renewable every year.

This grudging concession, after 24 years, came after newspaper editors had caved in to government demands for press to regulate itself and agreed to set up a press council. The prime minister made another promise last night that there would be no government interference in the press council. However the major newspapers are owned by the same political parties that form the current government.

Najib said: “The council can assist in upholding media freedom that goes in tandem with the current realities of the country.”

In other words, a press council that knows how to toe the government line — something at which the press has had plenty of practice.

» PM repeats plans to regulate online media
» Up to media industry to practise self-regulation, says Najib


From freedom to more oppression

The prime minister, in his own words

2009: Promise of freedom
If we are truly to build a democracy that is responsive to the needs of all the people, we need a media — both old and new — that is empowered to responsibly report what they see, without fear of consequence, and to hold governments and public officials accountable for the results they achieve or do not achieve
Najib Tun Razak

2011: Open democracy
We will continue to spend and invest to promote open democracy and Digital democracy…even a government that is not too keen about the “democracy” part of “Digital democracy” should embrace the “digital” part

2012: Promise of control
The government cannot be viewed as practising double standards in its rules towards the printed and digital media. The government “will carry out a comprehensive study for the need for [a new law and] existing ones to take into account of the development in information communication technology

What Najib doesn’t want you to know about Malaysia’s press freedom ranking

• Two journalists killed in Indonesia, 5 kidnapped, 18 assaulted
• Indonesia’s ranking plunges 29 places, three others drop
• Malaysia gains from violence to other Asian journalists

The prime minister’s outlandish attempt last night to claim credit for Malaysia’s press freedom ranking is a shocking display of insensitivity to the deaths of at least two Indonesian journalists, and the violence against others which caused the rankings of their countries to fall, and Malaysia’s to rise.

Plainly ignoring the facts contained in Reporters Sans Frontieres’s 2011-12 report, Najib Tun Razak said last night: “Since I become Prime Minister, Malaysia has moved up nine places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index…”

His brazen effrontery is sickening. The real reason for Malaysia’s better showing is plain: other countries’ ranking fell, because of violence against journalists — Indonesia’s ranking plunged by 29 places, and India and Bangladesh also dropped. This table shows it all.

2010 2011-2012
Country Score Country Score
8 New Zealand 1,50 13 New Zealand -5,33
11 Japan 2,50 22 Japan -1,00
18 Australia 5,38 30 Australia 4,00
34 Hong-Kong 10,75 35 Papua New Guinea 9,00
42 Papua New Guinea 13,33 44 South Korea 12,67
42 South Korea 13,33 45 Taiwan 13,00
48 Taiwan 14,50 54 Hong-Kong 17,00
52 Maldives 16,00 54 Mauritius 17,00
64 Bhutan 17,75 54 Samoa 17,00
65 Mauritius 18,00 70 Bhutan 24,00
76 Mongolia 19,42 73 Maldives 25,00
93 Timor-Leste 25,00 86 Timor-Leste 30,00
111 Samoa 33,00 100 Mongolia 35,75
117 Indonesia 35,83 106 Nepal 38,75
119 Nepal 36,38 117 Cambodia 55,00
122 India 38,75 117 Fiji 55,00
126 Bangladesh 42,50 122 Malaysia 56,00
128 Cambodia 43,83 125 Brunei 56,20
136 Singapore 47,50 129 Bangladesh 57,00
141 Malaysia 50,75 131 India 58,00
142 Brunei 51,00 135 Singapore 61,00
149 Fiji 52,75 137 Thailand 61,50
151 Pakistan 56,17 140 Philippines 64,50
153 Thailand 56,83 146 Indonesia 68,00
156 Philippines 60,00 151 Pakistan 75,00
158 Sri Lanka 62,50 163 Sri Lanka 87,50
165 Vietnam 75,75 165 Laos 89,00
168 Laos 80,50 169 Burma 100,00
171 China 84,67 172 Vietnam 114,00
174 Burma 94,50 174 China 136,00
177 North Korea 104,75 178 North Korea 141,00

Asia-Pacific countries. Source: Reporters Sans Frontieres

No, prime minister, Malaysia did not rise in the RSF rankings. The others fell — because journalists were killed or beaten up.

In Indonesia at least two journalists died in an army crackdown in West Papua; five were kidnapped and 18 journalists assaulted.

“That was the main reason for Indonesia’s plunge,” says Reporters Sans Frontieres in the report to the press freedom index

“A corrupt judiciary that is too easily influenced by politicians and pressure groups and government attempts to control the media and Internet have prevented the development of a freer press.”

“In Bangladesh, opposition groups and the ruling Awami League took turns to attack and obstruct the press. In India, journalists were exposed to violence in two states and threats from mafia groups in the main cities; the government also attempted to tighten controls on online media

Conditions worsened in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Singapore. Conditions did not improve in Malaysia in 2011.

While the prime minister sought to mock the United States and Britain, he conveniently neglected to see that 10 small Asian countries rank superior to Malaysia in the RSF table.

Najib’s boasts about his commitment to press freedom must be weighed against the events in Malaysia in the past year, among which were:

  • Malaysiakini was again refused a newspaper licence
  • A television cameraman died on duty in hostile conditions in a needless and showy adventure sponsored by a member of the prime minister’s department
  • The home minister and the information minister went on a frolic of their own to try to co-opt the national mass media into becoming full-fledged government and Barisan Nasional stooges and propagandists
  • The information minister went on a spree issuing libel writs against sundry small bloggers
  • The defence ministry co-opted for their own ends a notorious blogger who had, with impunity, gleefully published clips from a video purportedly of a man resembling the opposition leader cavorting with a woman purportedly a prostitute from China
  • Nanyang Siang Pau and The Star were hounded by the home ministry for errors that impinged on religious sensitivities, while Utusan Malaysia whipped up racial and religious tensions with abandon
  • The police hounded a young blogger who made facetious remarks about people in high places, based on reports already carried by other blogs and after he was fingered by pro-Umno bloggers
  • Media Prima took over the New Straits Times Press, and the prime minister’s press secretary was appointed to a senior editorial position to supervise NSTP newspapers, further concentrating press ownership and control.

Against all that, it is laughable that the prime minister seeks to gain personal glory out of a niggardly and grudging concession to withdraw annual licensing of newspapers — still unfulfilled after six months, and in the fourth year of his term.)

To add further insult, Najib even claims credit for the existence of Malaysiakini and the Malaysian Insider — both of which were set up well before he became prime minister: Malaysiakini 10 years before, and the Insider in 2008, a year before Najib’s government took office.

It is hilarious to see that Najib said: “I’m not naïve. I know that editors choose critical stories above positive ones…. But there are always two sides to every story, and things are rarely as simple as they seem.” » Najib: I gave media more freedom

He must be truly naive if he cannot see that journalists write critical reports because politicians speak with forked tongues, and because it is the journalist’s duty to give a complete and rounded report, and to call politicians to account.

Malaysian journalists, and the Malaysian public, are not so naive as to take politicians at their word, even less so when the words of the politician and the facts they conveniently disregard so often do not tally.

Quite plainly, despite his own words, Najib Tun Razak is no different from most other politicians in wanting to see only one side of the story, and never mind the facts.


Najib insults the dead with empty boast of Malaysian press freedom

• Prime Minister peddles fiction to foreign correspondents
• Facts of RSF press index twisted for empty rhetoric

In a tasteless display of self-aggrandisement, the prime minister took personal credit last night for Malaysia’s ranking in a press freedom index, and in doing so showed a callous insensitivity to the deaths and violence suffered by journalists in Asia that was the real reason for Malaysia’s better showing.

Malaysia ranked 122nd in the 2011-12 Reporters Sans Frontieres press freedom index, compared to 141st the year before — a higher ranking because other Asian countries fell and not because of better conditions for press freedom in Malaysia.

Yet, when speaking in Kuala Lumpur last night at the inauguration of the foreign correspondents’ club, Najib Tun Razak proudly boasted: “Since I became Prime Minister, Malaysia has moved up nine places in the press freedom index [of Reporters Sans Frontieres], even as the likes of the United States and Great Britain have slid down.”

Najib’s sickening boast twists the facts — already an insult to journalists — to make a meaningless comparison to the US and Britain, and compounds the insult by ignoring the violence against Asian journalists that had caused a drop in the rankings of those countries, and thus a better showing for Malaysia where conditions have hardly improved.

After the insults comes a bald lie

Piling on the insults, Najib also invented a claim that “we are now officially one of South-East Asia’s most media-friendly nations, ranked well ahead of Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.”

That’s pure fiction, if not an outright lie, by making it appear to have come from the RSF report — while ignoring what the report actually said: that press freedom in Malaysia is in a “difficult situtation”. There is nothing in the RSF report about Malaysia being media-friendly.

In fact other RSF reports for 2011 and 2012 are scathing about Malaysia’s disregard for journalists, press freedom and the citizen’s right to free expression. The RSF 2011 report on Enemies of the Internet talks of political controls on media » New media, new political scene, of » Bloggers and netizens under pressure especially because of libel suits, some brought by the information minister, and questions Najib’s promises of reforms » Real legislative reform or empty promises?

Six-month-old promise not fulfilled

Those promises of reforms were also part of Najib’s speech last night, with another grand boast of his commitment to press freedom and “also why I have relaxed decades-old media licensing requirements”. That is another empty boast, based on a promise made six months ago and still unfulfilled.

He said last night that “it is impossible to deny that change, real change, is happening in Malaysia” but the reality, the facts, are that the Malaysian press remain in fetters, that nothing has happened in the six months since his grudging concession (or even in the three years since he took office).

His home minister and his information minister have yet to show similar commitment to press reforms, but instead have been all too eager to try to appoint themselves press overlords, and in the case of the information minister, also resorting to writs of libel to gag inconvenient and insignificant bloggers.

Najib and his government have a long way to go before journalists will be convinced that press reform is on the cards. All the bluster and rhetoric has revealed only that the government and the prime minister have little regard for journalists or their lives, or for the central tenet of their calling: that facts are sacred.


Tiada Lembu Nak Jaga

Final chapter: federal housing agency gives houses in northern mainland for last nine families of Kg Buah Pala
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Double-storey terrace houses in the northern mainland are to be given to the last nine families of Kampung Buah Pala and nine members of their extended families, left homeless after the village was destroyed two years ago. Kg Buah Pala, near Gelugor on the island, has been home to descendants of estate workers brought to Penang more than 200 years ago by the Brown family. The families were given right of residence under a Brown family trust.

The village was torn down in 2009 after a series of State Government actions from 2004 that resulted in the Senior Government Officers’ Cooperative entering a joint venture with a private developer to build condominiums on the land. Eighteen families have been given houses in compensation by the developer after state intervention, while the nine insisting on fighting on. The new homes for the nine familiesare from Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, the housing agency of the federal government.

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» Flickr slideshow

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