Information Minister Zainudin Maidin (Zam) was clearly not happy with the Umno-linked New Straits Times (NST) daily when he touched on the print media in his winding up of the debate on the motion of thanks for the royal address for his ministry in Parliament late Thursday.
The former journalist said newspapers in Malaysia should not act as the voices for foreign concepts of freedom and democracy but instead should be instruments for the formation of a nationalistic Malaysia and not Malaysian Malaysia.
Referring to the NST, he said the newspaper had published a feature article on January 4, 2006 that aimed to destroy the Malay identity in Malaysia.
"This is not a Malaysia doctrine but the legacy of a foreign doctrine that had resulted in a tragedy in Malaysia," Zam was quoted by the national news agency, Bernama.
It is clear to me that Zam was referring to Singapore and the PAP leaders, in particular Lee Kuan Yew, who were fighting for a Malaysian Malaysia which led to the separation of the island republic from the federation.
Zam also said that some segments of the media had misinterpreted the freedom and transparency promoted by prime minister Abdullah Badawi. He claimed that they had disregarded the norms and principles of Malaysian laws which all this while had guided the freedom of the press in Malaysia.
On the NST, I am certain that Zam was referring to the "Comment" column headlined "Defending Malaysia's diversity" (page 19 Jan 4).
The article's introduction reads: "Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has a well-deserved reputation for integrity and for the propagation of Islam Hadhari - a moderate, modernist Islam focused on basic principles and the pursuit of knowledge. But official Islam in Malaysia continues to play into the hands of Islamophobes everywhere and upset the 45 per cent or so of Malaysia's population who are non-Muslim."
Two current issues, according to the article, suggested that Abdullah would have to invest more of his own political capital in bringing a narrow official Islam into line with his own vision of an inclusivist faith that is intellectually alive and can coexist easily with the nation's large Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and other minorities.
It mentioned M Moorthy, born a Hindu but on his death was declared as a Muslim by a religious court, although his family claimed that he had not converted to Islam. The powers of the Sharia Court were then confirmed by the High Court, which ruled that it could not intervene in a decision by the religious court.
The NST said that in modern, multi-ethnic, inclusivist Malaysia, the religious courts are a law unto themselves. It added that it is particularly worrying for non-Muslims.
"But it has wider implications in a society where all Malays are deemed to be Muslims, whatever they actually believe, and where religious movements by Malays have recently been persecuted on the grounds that they were judged heretical by the religious authorities."
The article also touch on the new Islamic Family Law which it claimed to have been "rammed through Parliament."
"Although it has the legitimate aim of standardising the implementation of Sharia, Muslim women from across the religious/political spectrum see it as a backward step that enhances an already male-biased law," the NST insisted.
The article argued that as ever in Malaysia, the underlying themes may be more about political power struggles than religious beliefs. The governing Umno must compete for Malay votes with the fundamentalists Pas. Religion can be a weapon, too, in Umno's internal politics.
Wow! No wonder Information Minister Zainudin Maidin is upset. It is not because of his recent tiff with NSTP's deputy chairman-cum-advisor Kalimullah Hassan, formely its group Editor-in-Chief but because of what has been published by the daily.
As stated in my previous posts, Kalimullah was responsible for promoting the current editorial leadership of NST including roping in his ex-Straits Times (Singapore) reporter friend Brendan Pereira who is now group editor.
Hishamuddin Aun, a Bernama reporter who leap-frog to Berita Harian and a decade later promoted to head the Malay daily, is now the group editor-in-chief, is seen as Kalimullah's loyalist. A number of senior Malay editors either manning the gate or newsdesk of NST, Berita Harian and the Malay Mail, out of dissatisfaction and frusration with what Kalimullah has done, had either resigned or take up the voluntary separation scheme.
It is only logical that more readers are turning to The Star and The Sun and are returning to Utusan Malaysia.