“Envelope Journalism” during KT By-election

18 02 2009

On 16 January 2009, that was during the Kuala Terengganu by-election, more than a dozen journalists at the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election media centre were asked to list their names, the organisation they worked for and telephone numbers on a blank piece of paper by a media centre staff. Thereafter at about 3.50pm, they were given a white envelope containing 6 RM50 notes.

A number of journalists later returned the envelopes to the media centre staff while 2 journalists from Chinese-language online news portal Merdeka Review immediately lodged a police report at the Terengganu police headquarters. In their police reports, they have provided the name of the media centre staff who distributed the white envelope. They were later informed that the case would be referred to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation.

In view of the incident, I have submitted a question to the parliament seeking an answer from the Prime Minister or the Minister of Information. My question was worded as follow: –

Puan Teo Nie Ching [Serdang] minta Perdana Menteri menyatakan atas arahan siapa pegawai bertugas memberi sampul surat yang mengandungi RM300 kepada wartawan-wartawan di pusat media Kuala Terengganu pada 16 Januari 2009 dan apakah tindakan/siasatan yang telah ataupun akan diambil ke atas insiden ini.

I have requested for my question to be answered yesterday. However I was informed by Dewan Rakyat secretary Datuk Roosme binti Hamzah that my question has been rejected on the ground that it is against Rule 23(1)(c) of the Standing Order.

Rule 23(1)(c) of the Standing Order reads as follow: –

“A question shall not contain any argument, interference, opinion, epithet or misleading, ironical or offensive expression nor shall a question be frivolous or be asked seeking information on trivial matters.”

Such a classification is difficult to justify as my question does not contain any argument, interference, opinion or epithet. It could never be a frivolous or trivial matter too.

We notice that the Information Minister through his press secretary Hisham Abdul Hamid has denied making any payment to journalists covering the by-election and claimed that the ministry had never directed any of its officers to do such a thing.

However when being questioned about the source of the money, the media centre staff could not offer any solid answer.

The Information Minister boasted in October last year that there was no envelope journalism in Malaysia where journalists and editors are paid to highlight certain stories. To testify the accuracy of his statement and for the sake of clearing the name of the ministry, the Minister shall take the initiative to investigate the matter, to find out under whose instruction the staff offered the envelope to the journalists. To prove that our government is all out to fight corruption and the Prime Minister is not the only person speaking on this subject, the Minister should immediately sack the media centre staff and the giver of instruction!

Further, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has later on 20 January 2009 decided not to investigate the case because they said the reporters could not identify the media centre staff despite the fact that the reporters from Merdeka Review have provided the name of the staff!

This reflects the lack of initiative on the part of the MACC to respond to what is clearly an attempt to bribe journalists covering the by-election. This is totally unacceptable! There were more than a dozen journalists in the media centre that day. What is so difficult to identify the staff?

The approaches adopted by MACC and the Ministry of Information make a mockery of the so-called reforms towards a corrupt-free society that was declared by the Prime Minister in his last minute attempts to prove that he is not sleeping throughout his tenure and shows that BN Government is only paying lip service to the principle of honesty and the battle to fight corruption.

We are happy that the people in Kuala Terengganu were not influenced by the dirty tricks and Pakatan Rakyat has won the by-election with 2,631 vote majority. Even though KT by-election is now over, it is important to ensure that real action is taken to eradicate the dirty trick happened in the media centre. To demonstrate zero tolerance to corrupt practice, the Minister of Information should give an assurance that action will be taken against the media centre staff and such incident won’t repeat itself during the by-elections in Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau.

Unless such assurance is given, corruption would never truly be stamped out in Malaysia.


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