Written by Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Press statement by Dr Lim Teck Ghe, Director CPI
Yesterday, senior producer Joshua Wong Ngee Choong announced his resignation from ntv7. He said he did so because of complaints from the Prime Minister’s Department and Prime Minister’s wife Rosmah Mansor in reaction to two recent Chinese talk show programmes focusing on current political developments. According to Wong, the company Natseven TV Sdn Bhd has now set restrictions for the ‘offensive’ show Editor’s Time which “are not justifiable, threaten(s) the independence of my job as producer…is also a form of self-censorship, (and)… is against the principle of fair and independent reporting. These restrictions have seriously affected the professionalism of the [production] team.”Besides implicating various senior staff of the television station for pressuring him to engage in self-censorship aimed at pleasing the BN and Umno leadership, Wong disclosed that he had learnt that “the First Lady (Rosmah) complained about … Penang roadshow [held on 8 April] – all the way from Washington” and that he “later found that the First Lady had received complaints from other people, and she re-directed the complaint to the top management.”
As for the role played by the Prime Minister’s Department, below is the sms complaint that Wong states was conveyed by the PM’s department.
CPI translation Extracts:
“They [the ntv7 programme, its panellists and studio audience] mock the KPI and BN’s position. Mock 1Malaysia. Challenge PM to comprehensively revamp BTN. Question the action of Dato Nasir Safar when Dato Nasir has courageously resigned [as Najib Razak’s aide].
… What is very dangerous, they demand the freedom of speech, right from the start of the debate session just now. Meaning, no investigation is required to be made, the way they talk and they allow the audience to ask questions [gives the impression] as if our government is so bad.
What more do these Chinese want, they are [already] richer than the Malays. I suggest that we wage war on these Chinese. [Appeal] to Malay Parliamentarians, Umno/Supreme Council and all Umno leaders, wake up … they are increasingly biadab/ill-mannered.”
Who controls the media?
Natseven TV belongs to Media Prima, the country’s most powerful media conglomerate that similarly owns 100 percent equity interest in TV3, 8TV and TV9. It also owns 90% of NSTP.
Sitting in Media Prima’s board of directors are, among others, former Utusan editor-in-chief Johan Jaafar, former NST group editor Ahmad A. Talib and prominent businessmen some of whom are associated with Umno.
Media Prima’s largest shareholder is Gabungan Kasturi, reportedly owned by Amanah Raya – a trust management company belonging wholly to the Malaysian government holding the shares through the Minister of Finance (Incorporated).
Media Prima’s main minority shareholder is the Employees Provident Fund (note: EPF’s investment panel is headed by former chief secretary to the government Samsudin Osman).
The role of ntv7 in this scheme of things is that the free-to-air station positions itself as the “Home of Feel Good – Malaysia’s Favourite Chinese and Urban Station”; in other words, it is targeted mainly at a Chinese and urban demographic.
In giving the reasons for his resignation, Wong alleges that Sofwan Mahmood (whom the Media Prima corporate directory lists as ntv7 Deputy Editor-in-Chief, News) “said that it is not advisable to talk about [the Hulu Selangor by-election] as … the show will embarrass Najib’s administration”.
Wong also alleges that his superior Tan Boon Kooi had informed him of the ‘advice’ given by Media Prima group editor (News and Current Affairs) Manja Ismail that opposition MP Tony Pua should not be invited as guest speaker (note: Manja was the Berita Harian group editor from April 2006).
From the above, it can be seen that all terrestrial television, although ostensibly private stations, have indirect links to either Umno or the Umno-controlled federal government, and that their key decision-makers are the Media Prima bigwigs who have a career history in corporate entities that are strongly pro-Umno.
Questions for the Prime Minister
These are our questions for Najib.
1. Wong has made a serious allegation that the complaint against his programme was conveyed by Rosmah. Najib’s high-profile wife holds no public office but is playing a partisan political role surpassing that of any other spouse of previous prime ministers. Najib should clarify whether Rosmah or her staff issued the cease-and-desist order to Media Prima and ntv7.
2. Is Najib aware that the instructions to Wong purportedly came from his PM’s department? These instructions to Editor’s Time were, in effect, to gloss over or black out coverage of political developments in Hulu Selangor that are unfavourable to the ruling party. If the allegation is false, then Najib quickly should reassure the public that the government is not pulling the strings on what news and views are fit for public consumption.
3. Apart from this specific case of blatant intimidation and attempted censorship of a supposedly private television station, TV1 and TV2 are state-controlled television stations with no autonomy either to exercise free and fair reporting. Can the Prime Minister clarify whether there is a direct chain of command from his office and his officers giving directives to the civil servants heading these national broadcasters?
We note that RTM director-general Ibrahim Yahaya was former Berita Harian editor-in-chief and TV3 broadcasting manager.
Implications of Wong’s resignation
Wong’s resignation should not be treated as another run-of-the-mill case of a middle-management media practitioner coming up against the stone wall of political masters and media owners dictating content.
Instead, his resignation puts the spotlight on how corrupt the stifled system has become. How can a current affairs programme be barred by ntv7 from discussing the Hulu Selangor by-election just because Umno wants to exercise damage control and only permit views that portray the party, its leadership and its governance in a rosy light?
More pertinently, Wong asks “How can we continue to keep silent, to tolerate and allow these [abuses of power] to happen again and again?” Other Malaysians are asking the same questions.
The BN has maintained its stranglehold on power because the mainstream mediam (MSM) has colluded to keep it in power. From Wong’s superior Tan Boon Kooi to Lee Lam Thye who sits in Media Prima’s board of directors to the handsomely paid hacks in the print media, the professional disinformation industry has aided and abetted in propping up Umno hegemony.
Slanting information and depriving audiences of alternative views while at the same time setting a biased agenda and story angle is tantamount to brainwashing the masses.
Wong is to be applauded for his principled resignation. We are glad that his break with the cartel has allowed the dirty racket that has been operating in the mainstream media for so long to now be revealed.
We must build on this revelation of MSM’s inner workings to ensure that government control over what Malaysians can view and read is truly breached so that the electorate is no longer kept in the dark.