In his speech to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) Asia Media Awards on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak spoke about the need to combat the “plague of false and fake news” in the social media and foreign newspapers.
He has however conspicuously omitted the plague of false and fake news in the mainstream media in Malaysia, in particular those owned and controlled by UMNO/BN, which have blazed the path of transforming “newspapers” into “lies-papers”.
False and fake news, whether in social media, foreign newspapers or in local mainstream media, must be equally combatted, exposed and condemned for they are designed not only to distort truth, but deceive the people about the true facts and situation.
In this connection, the greatest surprise in the Prime Minister’s speech at the international media event was his total omission, without any single mention, of the global kleptocratic 1MDB scandal which had haunted and hounded the country and Malaysians for the past two years.
Najib is in fact responsible for the most heinous fake news any government has concocted with the official government version that the global kleptocratic 1MDB scandal does not exist.
In his speech, Najib referred to “a well-known foreign newspaper” which he alleged to be “printing lies about the Government”.
Everybody knows that Najib was referring to the Wall Street Journal, which had worked assiduously and consistently on the global kleptocratic 1MDB scandal.
Are the stacks of Wall Street Journal reports about the 1MDB scandal sheer “lies” against Najib and the Malaysian Government, and if so, why have Najib and his government not been able to expose these lies – or do what Najib had threatened all the way back to July 2015, to sue Wall Street Journal?
Far from regarded as “lies”, five of the Wall Street Journal journalists Tom Wright, Bradley Hope, Simon Clark, Mia Lamar and James Hookway were named last April as finalists in the United States’ 2016 Pulitzer Prize for what judges said was their “masterful” reporting that exposed corruption at the highest level of a fragile democracy, leading to “Malaysia’s Watergate”.
It is pertinent and salutary to read the submission by the Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker when submitting nine WSJ reports on the global kleptocratic 1MDB scandal by the five journalists which appeared in 2015 for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for International Report, viz:
“The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Malaysia – a key U.S. ally in Southeast Asia – exposed in painstaking detail a major political and financial scandal that has shaken one of the world’s most entrenched ruling parties. The story became Malaysia’s Watergate, with secret payments, missing money and a brass-knuckle political cover-up.
“A team of 10 Journal reporters in seven countries, spearheaded by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, spent six months untangling a giant financial web centered on 1MDB. They combed through thousands of pages of financial records and government documents and tracked down dozens of local Malaysian officials to prove that money from 1MDB was used for political campaigning. They followed the money trail from Malaysia to the Middle East, Switzerland, Australia and the U.S. to unravel a series of complex transactions that involved a politically connected Malaysian conglomerate, charities controlled by the prime minister, Swiss private banks, off-shore shell companies and a government investment fund in Abu Dhabi.
“Their revelations started with an exclusive story that revealed how a government-backed investment fund run by the prime minister was really a huge hidden political-funding machine that helped the ruling party win a tight national election in 2013.
“That story was the first to connect the fund to spending by the ruling party and to the prime minister, Najib Razak, putting the Journal’s coverage ahead of other media. It quickly led to an exclusive story that exposed $700 million in deposits made to Mr. Najib’s personal bank accounts. The money came from companies linked to the fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd, known as 1MDB, which was supposed to be pursuing economic development for the Southeast Asian country.
“The reporters pursued the story at considerable risk. Despite a reputation as a multi-ethnic democracy, Malaysia has a track record of severe harassment and intimidation of the government’s political opponents and the media. The government shut down two media organizations that aggressively reported the 1MDB story. The opposition leader who won the popular vote in 2013 is in prison.
“After the initial stories, the Journal was facing fears that its Kuala Lumpur bureau could be targeted by authorities and was operating under the threat of a lawsuit by the prime minister. When Tom Wright visited Malaysia, word came back to another reporter that the prime minister’s cabinet was debating whether to arrest Tom at the airport as he left the country.
“Instead, Tom took an early morning drive to the land border with Singapore and left without incident.
“Soon after the Journal’s story on Mr. Najib’s bank accounts — which was repeatedly cited inside and outside Malaysia — tens of thousands took to the streets to demand the prime minister’s ouster. When he heard about Mr. Najib’s bank accounts, the deputy prime minister used the dramatic Malay word ‘menggemparkan,’ meaning ‘shocking’ or ‘earthquake’ to describe the news.
“1MDB is now the subject of 10 investigations in Malaysia and in six other countries. It is selling off assets to repay $11 billion in debt that it has amassed since 2009. The fund used Goldman Sachs to borrow money quickly and quietly, earning the Wall Street firm hundreds of millions of dollars in fees. The Journal’s reporters showed that Goldman was actively targeting countries like Malaysia where it believed it could earn high fees.
“The risks of government investment funds are not confined to Malaysia. Sovereign-wealth funds like 1MDB grew dramatically elsewhere in the world but are struggling now because of weak commodity prices. They are borrowing billions and selling assets, but because many disclose little about their holdings or operations they are a black box in the world financial system.
“The Journal’s coverage didn’t just expose the details of a Malaysian prime minister’s slush fund. It also revealed a level of corruption that went far beyond the day-to-day payoffs that had become accepted in a young nation’s political system.”
The serious issues raised in this damning and sobering indictment of the global kleptocratic 1MDB scandal more than a year ago still awaits a convincing response from Najib – in fact, have become even more compelling and imperative which cannot be dispelled with the continued pretence that the international money-laundering scandal does not exist.
Is Najib prepared to issue a White Paper to lay to rest all the “false and fake news” about the global kleptocratic 1MDB scandal?