By Thomas Lee
When announcing the establishment of the Penang Exco Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee early this week, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng pointed out that the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled Penang state government has been under siege with constant unwarranted attacks of being anti-Malay even over simple and small matters.
Even before the high-profile committee can start to meet to formulate its plan of action, the Umno newspaper Utusan Melayu has launched a harsh and raucous assault on it, claiming that it is a tool to sideline Islam, and bully the Muslims and Malay Rulers.
“To Muslim leaders and Muslims in Penang … beware the subtle and slick tactics of a certain leader to sideline Islam as the official religion and bypass the Conference of Rulers,” the Utusan said its Thursday 17 February 2011 edition.
The Utusan was commenting on the new state executive council portfolio initiated by Guan Eng to handle religious matters relating to the non-Islamic religions like Buddhisms, Christianity, Sikhism, Taoism and Hinduism.
The high-profile exco committee is headed by Guan Eng himself, with Deputy Chief Minister (II) Prof Dr P. Ramasamy as the deputy chairman.
The Utusan attack on the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled Penang state government is certainly not unexpected or surprising, given the fact that the Umno mouthpiece has been on an unbridled energetic campaign against the DAP and its secretary-general Guan Eng since the Barisan Nasional lost control of Penang after the March 2008 general election. The newspaper has lately become very ethno-centric and more race-centred in its reporting and writings.
In 2008, the Utusan campaigned against Selangor Senior Executive Councillor Teresa Kok of the DAP, accusing her of asking a Puchong mosque to stop playing the azan over its loudspeaker. Teresa was then arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA), but released a week later. She had denied the allegation while the mosque committee members also came forward to defend her.
In August 2010, the Utusan had played up a story on DAP Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching entering the worship area of the Surau Al-Huda in Kajang Sentral during a ceremony to present aid to PAS members. The unwarranted sensationalizing of the inadvertent unwitting incident using thoughtless and emotionally toned language to stir up negative feelings against Teo was certainly despicable.
Then in December 2010, the newspaper attacked Teo again for alleged failure to dress appropriately during her visit to a mosque. She was condemned for allegedly wearing tight-fitting clothes at an aerobics exercise programme in the mosque’s car park. The Utusan had accused Teo of not respecting Muslim sensitivities for not covering her aurat and wearing what it called a tight-fitting T-shirt and track pants.
In December 2010, the Utusan accused the DAP of being a tool of a foreign government and called for the party to be banned. A day after the Pakatan Rakyat national convention, the Malay daily also accused Guan Eng of being anti-Malay as it zeroed in its assault on the Penang Chief Minister and the DAP.
In its Monday 20 December 2010 edition, Utusan featured remarks by Umno leaders who, among others, called the DAP the “king of racism”.
There was also an article entitled “Guan Eng’s rudeness” that listed Guan Eng’s alleged anti-Malay acts.
The Utusan had also claimed that Guan Eng had banned a Maulidur Rasul procession, prevented Malay traders from participating in the Ramadan bazaar in Komtar, and demolished various villages.
The newspaper had also condemned Guan Eng for allegedly using gambling revenue to fund compassionate payments to Muslim senior citizens.
The Utusan had also quoted Umno vice-president and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying that the DAP was a tool of a foreign power.
“Guan Eng should ask himself if the DAP is a true political party that represents Malaysians, or whether it wants to be a tool of a foreign country by hiding behind democracy,” Ahmad Zahid was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
The Utusan Malaysia had also reported Bayan Baru MP Datuk Seri Zahrain Hashim as claiming that the DAP worshipped Singapore.
Given all these accusations the Utusan has been making and is making against Guan Eng and the other DAP leaders, and its constant contemptible assaults on the Pakatan Rakyat Penang state government, it is time perhaps for the people to put their act together and send a loud and clear message to the newspaper that enough is enough.
We should note that National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president Hata Wahari, himself a senior reporter with the Utusan, has urged the authorities to act against the Utusan editors for allegedly stoking racial sentiments in its reports. Hata had also blamed the drop in the daily’s sales on the editors for pushing what he called racial rhetoric.
As a journalist of 35-year standing and one who would die for the cause of free speech and free press, I would, of course, not recommend any boycott of the newspaper, especially when the rice bowls of hundreds of journalists and newspaper workers are at stake.
However, I believe a concerted effort by newspaper readers to bombard the editors with letters of protest, and to send a strong message via the ballot box at the next general election to Umno to stop the Utusan nonsense will perhaps help to elicit a thorough change in the newspaper’s editorial policy.
Enough is enough! The Utusan must be made to stop its hate campaign against the legitimately elected state government of Penang.