An UMNO-owned Newspaper Inflames Malaysia

Asia Sentinel
Written by Our Correspondent | Thursday, 12 May 2011

Utusan Malaysia stirs the racial pot

A week ago, the Malay-language broadsheet Utusan Malaysia printed a story that is sending reverberations throughout an increasingly racially tense Malaysia, to the effect that Christian pastors were seeking to install a Christian prime minister who would change the country’s official religion.

Although the story was ridiculous on the face of it, it has been given wide circulation and drawn considerable comment as well as a series of police reports filed in local stations. Malaysia’s official religion, enshrined in the country’s constitution, is Islam although other religions are guaranteed freedom of existence. Any attempt to change that would probably result in a racial conflagration that no sane individual in Malaysia would want.

According to the CIA World Factbook, ethnic Malays make up 50.4 percent of the population, more than double the population of Chinese with 23.7 percent, Indians at 7.1 percent, others 7.8 percent and indigenous races, primarily in East Malaysia, at 11 percent. Muslims account for 60.4 percent of the population, Buddhists 19.2 percent, Christians 9.1 percent and Hindus 6.2 percent.

Leaders of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, which represents several different religions met with Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on Thursday to say the report was specious and to ask that Utusan’s editors be disciplined for irresponsible reporting. Najib told local reporters he welcomed the church leaders’ assurance that they were not seeking to make the country a Christian nation.

News reports gave no indication that Najib apologized to the church leaders for the newspaper’s irresponsible reporting. Utusan Malaysia is owned by the party that Najib heads – the United Malays National Organization, the ethnic Malay party that leads the national governing coalition, the Barisan Nasional. Over recent months, the newspaper has become more strident in its racial reporting, earning it criticism from a wide variety of sources, particularly the opposition parties which it regularly excoriates.

The paper recently fired Hata Wahari, a longtime reporter at Utusan and the recently elected president of the Malaysian National Union of Journalists after filing eight charges against him for a variety of shortcomings. However, the charges were widely regarded as having been triggered by Hata’s statements about the lack of freedom in the country’s mainstream press and in particular Utusan Malaysia’s pro-government, anti-opposition bias. Hata was the second national journalist’s union head fired by the paper.

As with Utusan, the country’s political parties own most of Malaysia’s major dailies and television stations, in Malay, English, Chinese or Tamil languages. Utusan is just one of several newspapers controlled by UMNO. Although opposition parties own their own publications, they are under strict licensing rules that require renewal each year. While the mainstream press face the same restrictions, their ownership serves as an even bigger impediment to impartial journalism. The Internet largely supplies the country’s only independent journalism, a fact that appears to account for fast-growing online readership.

Supposedly the demand to Christianize the country, reported by two pro-government bloggers according to Utusan Malaysia, was made at a meeting in which opposition lawmaker Jeff Ooi was present. However, according to critics, Utusan didn’t bother to check the information. The blogs themselves didn’t state how they learned of the report.
Press freedom organizations including the Center for Independent Journalism, Charter2000-Aliran, the Writers’ Alliance for Media Independence and 1 Muted Malaysia all condemned the reports as irresponsible.

“Utusan Malaysia also did not offer an explanation for not naming these sources,” the organizations said in an open letter. “The use of anonymous sources – usually, in consideration of the sources’ safety – must be publicly justified. Notwithstanding this, Utusan Malaysia chose to run this as a front-page report, no less, and in so doing, gave the unverified story the credibility it did not deserve.”

Further, the group said, “the front-page story only quoted Ooi denying the allegation that he had sponsored the meeting. The subjects of the allegation itself – the pastors who allegedly made this call – were not interviewed. The Christian meeting’s organizers, which included the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF), had already denied the allegations of such a call being made in a statement published in the online media. Utusan Malaysia did not refer to this statement at all, nor was there any indication that any attempts were made to seek clarification from the pastors, NECF or any other Christian organizations.”

Free Malaysia Today, a Kuala Lumpur-based blog, argued today that “The mainstream media, for as long as they pander to the government, enjoy immunity from public prosecution. But Utusan Malaysia has earned a special place within this untouchable clique simply by the virtue of being owned by UMNO. This privilege has spawned relentless attacks on the opposition and increasingly frequent inflammatory reports on race and religion. But while most urbanites can see right through Utusan Malaysia’s thinly-veiled propaganda, its rural readership remains staunch believers.

The blog quoted Hata Wahiri as saying that the country should worry about the “slander” his former employer is producing, “because it is taking root in the rural areas. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are multi-cultural and able to discuss Utusan’s reports among themselves to seek clarification. But the rural community is predominantly Malay-Muslim. Who are they going to cross-check their facts with? Neither is there another Malay-language paper to counter Utusan’s reports. The only media they are exposed to is government-owned media.”

Hata warned that the newspaper is stoking racial flames and that “one day it will explode. I’m very afraid of that. If anything were to happen, it will begin in the rural areas.” If it continues, he said, “another May 13” – the day in 1969 when the country exploded into race riots that took hundreds of lives – is likely.

“The fact that Utusan Malaysia is continuing to spin more stories from a completely unverified report implies mischief on their part,” the press freedom organizations warned in their letter, “since there is a danger of various communities reacting further and inflaming an essentially emotive issue. Already, there are at least seven police reports lodged in response to what was mere rumor. Accuracy and verification are an integral part of journalism. Sources must be named as a measure of accountability on the part of both sources and journalists, and to allow readers to judge for themselves whether the information provided is true.”

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Friday, 13 May 2011 - 12:19 pm

    Now dat Christians hv been taken care of, another big dog will be barking at Buddhists
    Next UtusanM will b after Buddhists
    Buddhists must get ready 2 meet PM 2 assure him n UmnoB dat they do not harbor ambition 2 convert 1Msia in2 a Buddhist country
    After dat, of cos, it is d turn of Hindus

  2. #2 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Friday, 13 May 2011 - 12:49 pm

    UMNO is ONE CESSPOOl (1Cesspool) – full of festering filth and foulness.

  3. #3 by Loh on Friday, 13 May 2011 - 2:58 pm

    ///A week ago, the Malay-language broadsheet Utusan Malaysia printed a story that is sending reverberations throughout an increasingly racially tense Malaysia, to the effect that Christian pastors were seeking to install a Christian prime minister who would change the country’s official religion.///

    The constitution of Malaysia allows a Malaysian whether Iban or Kadazan to be Prime Minister. And what is wrong if Christian pastors did pray for a Christian prime minister to be installed? As for the change to the country’s religion, the suggestion that Islam is the religion of the country was initiated by the Pakistani Justice Hamid to the Reid Commission, and it was meant to be harmless to others. So when the inclusion of the statement to the constitution is meant to be harmless to others, religion will not be something that the prime minister would seek to change. Of course the intention of Utusan Melayu is to get Malays “fire up”. If the government is worried that the untenable rumours could cause disquiet in the country, it only shows that under BN government the society has remained immature. That is so because the government imposes all kinds of control to restrict the thinking capacity of Malaysians through its draconian Seditious Act. What are worse than the existence of the Sedition act are the double standards BN applies to laws in the country. If it serves the UMNO political needs, Home Minister even spoke in defence of persons who were in cow-head procession. What is more when the former Home Minister declared that he had to place a reporter in custody for her protection when the Minister had no answer to why she was taken into custody.

    BN claims to practice democracy but it tries hard to deny the electorates the facility to make informed decision when casting their ballot papers. UMNO believes in the form of vote casting and that alone represents democracy. That was why UMNO uses the election Commission to negate the practice of democracy in the country through gerrymandering, through the use of postal votes of government employees and non-government employees simply lost their right to vote, while overseas. Nothing in the constitution accords government employees more rights to democracy and yet the election commission chose to impose rules which favour the ruling government. In addition to tampering with the procedures of election vote casting, UMNO government uses government policies to divide the person to vote for UMNO. Hence they were fed with lies, and the topic which UMNO lied about, such as race and religion are designated as sensitive matters. It is as though Malaysians who have free education up to secondary level would never be able to think for themselves. In 54 years government funds have sent all Malaysian adults through secondary education. If UMNO government considers that these adults are unable to think for themselves, then it admits that the expenditure on education up to the secondary level in the country has been a waste.

    Najib asked to meet Christian pastors as if what was stated by Utusan Melayu were true. There is no need for Najib to meet the pastors even if Najib believed Utusan Melayu’s report, since they are entitled to such opinion even in the unlikely event that it was true. It was most unbecoming of Najib to say that the pastors respect Islam. Was the claim of such respect forced on them? Though they think no harm of any other religion, there is no need for them to express an emotion in that regard. What is most ridiculous is the statement to say that Christian pastors do not seek to change the religion. Malaysia is a secular state, and so religious persons have the same voting right as others. They can neither change the religion nor stop it from change, as the right to do so lies in the parliament. Najib’s utterance shows that he has no faith in parliamentary practice in the country. Indeed whether or not UMNO youth organize a protest in the street the law of the country is determined in parliament. Najib would do the country a great service if he told UMNO members that the law in the country is decided in the parliament and not the street, and UMNO youth should not cause traffic jams for their fruitless activities. Other than UMNO youth, members of other political parties abide by the practice of parliamentary democracy. As such the country should allow open debate about issues. It is only when all topics are openly discussed that they become non-sensitive.

    May 13 was not caused by open debate. It was created after the election when there were opportunists who wanted regime change.

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