Friday, December 7, 2007

Malaysian Media Told To Self-Censor Reports On Ethnic Indian Crackdown

The Associated Press

Malaysia's government has told the mainstream media not to sensationalize a crackdown on ethnic Indians following an unprecedented rally against racial discrimination in Muslim-majority Malaysia, officials said.

Che Din Yusoh, a senior official with the Internal Security Ministry, said newspaper editors had been given "verbal advice" not to highlight sensitive issues related to the Nov. 25 rally by at least 20,000 ethnic Indians that police broke up by force.

"Don't sensationalize what police are doing. Don't give a very negative picture ... We have guidelines on publication, and they have to implement (self) censorship," he told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

Malaysiakini, an independent Internet news portal, reported Wednesday that top editors of all dailies were summoned by the government for a meeting, and were told not to give prominence to Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, the group that is leading the Indian unrest.

An editor of a Tamil-language daily, catering to Indians, confirmed the meeting took place Tuesday. He told the AP that the government advised all chief editors to be "very careful" about "sharp wordings," especially in headlines. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Che said he could only confirm guidelines were issued but gave no details.

Most Malaysian newspapers and electronic media outlets are controlled by the government or political parties in the ruling coalition. They also operate with a government license, which must be renewed annually. Internet news sites do not have these restrictions.

Traditionally, Malaysia's mainstream media have been pro-government but some newspapers have become bolder in recent years and have openly discussed issues such as race relations that were previously taboo.

Newspapers gave wide coverage to the Hindraf rally and the court hearings of 31 Indians charged with attempted murder for a head injury sustained by a policeman during the demonstration. The Indians were denied bail Thursday.

Che said the media were told not to play up Hindraf's claims — debunked by most Malaysians — that Indians are victims of ethnic cleansing in Malaysia.

"Instead of trying to tarnish the image of the government ... the media should use their common sense and discretion to refute this kind of allegations," he said.

Che said his ministry monitored the media all the time to make sure their coverage did not endanger national security interests or create social unrest.

Last month's protests have shaken the government and raised fears it would destroy the fragile peace between the country's three main communities - Muslim Malays who form 60 percent of the country's 27 million people, the ethnic Chinese who are a quarter of the population and ethnic Indians who are 8 percent.

Malays control the government and the Chinese dominate the business. The Indians complain they are at the bottom of the society with little wealth, education or job opportunities because of government policies that give preferential treatment to Malays.

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