The Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, seeking leave from the Dewan Rakyat under standing Order 18, to move a motion of urgent definite public importance on the Sarawak State Government’s three-week boycott of three Sarawak newspapers, Borneo Post, See Hua Daily News and Sin Hua Evening News, for the following reasons:

“Firstly, after the Sarawak state general elections on 9th September 1996, a component party of Sarawak Barisan Nasional, SUPP, launched a boycott of three Sarawak newspapers of the See Hua Group, Borneo Post, See Hua Daily News and Sin Hua Evening News, blaming them for the SUPP electoral setbacks losing three State Assembly seats to the DAP and in particular the defeat of the SUPP President and Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Wong Soon Kai by accusing them of unfair, biased and one-sided coverage during the general elections campaign.

“This was an unfair, undemocratic and vindictive campaign by the SUPP leadership to look for a scapegoat for SUPP defeats in the Sarawak state general elections, particularly for the defeat of the SUPP President, as the SUPP leadership had not been able to deny that in Sibu, the See Hua Daily News had given SUPP 80 per cent of the coverage during the general elections while only 20 per cent to the DAP - i.e. 79 news items on SUPP while only 18 news items on the DAP; and that if anyone should complain about unfair coverage by See Hua Daily News in the elections campaign, it is the DAP and not SUPP!

“Furthermore, one of the news items which the SUPP had cited to justify its boycott campaign against the three newspapers was actually a Bernama report - and the SUPP had not accused the Bernama of unfair or biased reporting during the state general elections.

“Secondly, the SUPP boycott of the three newspapers was given immediate support by the Sarawak state government with a directive dated Sept. 21, 1996 by the Sarawak Deputy State Secretary, Datuk Taha Ariffin, to all government departments, statutory bodies and subsidiaries to support the SUPP boycott of the See Hua Group of newspapers and to:

“The Sarawak State Government, representing all Sarawakians, has no business to get involved in an unfair, undemocratic and vindictive political campaign by a political party looking for a “scapegoat” for its electoral losses. Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, for instance had accused the See Hua newspapers for ‘acting like political pamphlets’ in their coverage of the general elections, which is unfounded and baseless which would not stand an independent scrutiny.

“ If there was any newspaper which ‘acted like political pamphlets’ during the Sarawak state general elections, it was the Sarawak Tribune which not only blacked out all DAP news, but carried vicious and malicious articles against the DAP - violating all canons of journalistic independence, fairness and morality. However, the Sarawak State Government is not taking any action against Sarawak Tribune because the Sarawak Barisan Nasional parties were the beneficiaries!

“Thirdly, and most importantly, the Sarawak State Government’s boycott action against Borneo Post, See Hua Daily News and Sin Hua Evening News, in support of the unfair, undemocratic and vindictive campaign of a political party, is not only improper, the state government action warrant Parliamentary attention as transcending a state matter for the following three reasons:

“For the above reasons, Parliament must take serious note of this grave threat to press freedom in Malaysia, as even the Prime Minister’s criticisms of the weaknesses and abuses of Western press cannot be a justification for a new breed of greater press abuses, where newspapers which carried 80 per cent news coverage for SUPP and 20 per cent for DAP in the Sarawak state general elections are victimised and subject to a vindictive campaign!

“What Parliament can and must do, in discharge of its duty to protect and promote democracy and press freedom, are as follows:

“DEMAND a full public inquiry into the Sarawak state government boycott against Borneo Post, See Hua Daily News and Sin Hua Evening News as to whether there is any basis in the allegations that they had ‘acted more as political pamphlets’ and had been biased and one-sided against SUPP in favour of DAP in the Sarawak state general elections; whether there were other newspapers in Sarawak which better fit these allegations of bias and one-sidedness in their coverage of the state general elections; and whether the Sarawak State Government action was a threat to press freedom and should be discontinued; and

“DRAW the attention of the National Union of Journalists and Asean Confederation of Journalists so that they could take a strong stand against the grave threat to press freedom in the boycott against the three Sarawak newspapers, as Malaysian and ASEAN journalists must show that they are capable of standing up for press freedom and the rights of journalists when they are threatened inside their own country or region, without having to depend on journalists from other parts of the world to fight their battle for them.”

(The motion was rejected on the ground that: "Although it is a definite matter of public importance, it is not urgent")

(14/10/96)

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