Home Ministry decision creates perception of tightening media control
(The Malaysian Insider) KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — After threatening to do so for months, the Home Ministry today did not renew the licence of Makkal Ossai, the independent-minded Tamil language daily. The move by the government could signal a tightening of controls over the mainstream media amidst anxiety within government circles over the mood of exuberance by some newspapers after Election 2008.
The newspaper’s management was informed of the decision by the Home Ministry this morning but no reasons were offered. The paper has been under the spotlight for sometime because of its robust coverage of issues in the Indian community.
The MIC complained over its coverage of the Hindu Rights Action Force demonstrations and the space it was giving to the question of whether Indians were marginalised in Malaysia.
The Insider understands that at the height of the Hindraf issue, government leaders also reached out to former MIC deputy president Datuk S. Subramaniam to persuade Makkal Ossai to tone down its coverage. He is the owner of the publication which sells 52,000 copies a day.
The frequency of complaints increased in the run-up to the elections with MIC charging that combustible issues in the Indian community were highlighted by the paper. Again, a message was passed to Subramaniam, long-time nemesis of MIC president Datuk Seri Samy Vellu.
With feedback showing that the Indian ground was shifting away from MIC and Barisan Nasional, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reached out to Subramaniam and asked him to help campaign for the ruling coalition in constituencies with higher concentration of Indian voters.
The Centre of Independent Journalism, which tracked the coverage of newspapers during Election 2008, noted that Makkal Ossai had become more supportive of the Barisan Nasional with 66 per cent of its stories during that period deemed as pro-BN.
Still, the complaints against the newspaper did not cease after March 8. The paper’s management also published articles on issues which it deemed important for the community and gave considerable space to Opposition politicians.
The April 14 rally by PKR was given wide coverage with good size photographs of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wearing a garland of flowers. There are two other mainstream Tamil dailies – Nanban and Nesan. Both are seen as friendly to the government. The move by the Home Ministry to deny Makkal Ossai a licence will re-ignite the debate over the Printing Presses and Publications Act, legislation which requires newspapers to obtain an annual licence from the government.