State Media belongs to all Malaysians, not Barisan Nasional

Press Statement
28 January 2008

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) stresses that all forms of state media, including RTM, belong to all Malaysians and is not the private property of Barisan Nasional.
BERSIH reminds Deputy Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that 36% of the Malaysian electorate who voted for the Opposition in 2004 are taxpayers too and 36% of the operations cost of RTM is therefore funded by Opposition voters. This also means that 36% of Ahmad Zahid’s salary is paid for by these 36% Opposition voters who disagree with his political stand.

The Deputy Minister has insulted all Malaysians by condescendingly saying that the Ministry would study “whether allowing opposition leaders to campaign through RTM in the next general election will benefit the people”, as reported by Bernama on 24 January 2008. Whether the Opposition or Barisan Nasional’s campaign message will “benefit the people” is up to Malaysians and not the Ministry.
As the Malay saying goes, “berani kerana benar, takut kerana salah” (meaning “one is brave when right, and afraid when in the wrong”), if the Barisan Nasional is confident that their campaign message is more beneficiary to the people, why should its leaders be afraid of sharing the stage with Opposition leaders? Why should they deny voters the opportunity to make an informed decision?
PM Abdullah Badawi has been boasting to world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland about Malaysia’s successes. Has he no guts to face Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Hadi Awang at home in a live televised debate during the elections?
BERSIH urges Deputy Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to get his facts right. Opposition leaders from the three major opposition parties like Mustafa Kamil, Saifudin Nasution, Shamsul Iskandar, Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad, Husam Musa, Dr Lo’Lo’ Ghazali, Lim Guan Eng, Loke Siew Fook, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, Teng Chang Khim (DAP) have all appeared on Debat Perdana. However, Opposition panelists tend to be unfairly treated on the show as they are often cut short in their presentations or when giving answers to the questions raised.
All BERSIH is asking for is to have RTM organize Debat Perdana-type programmes featuring contesting candidates during the election campaign period, along the lines of Australia’s Leader Debate or American-style televised debates for presidential candidates.
BERSIH stresses that a level playing field – beginning with a respect for the boundary between the party and the state – is a basic and necessary condition for clean, free and fair elections.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s partisan comment clearly highlights the need for an Administrative Neutrality Act, which BERSIH has called for in addition to its short-term demands of the abolition of domestic postal voting, a thorough cleanup of the electoral roll, the use of indelible ink and equitable access to the media.
Issued by BERSIH steering committee members:
Wong Chin Huat – Chair, Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
V. Gayathry – Executive Director, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)