Sunday, February 26, 2006

Apologise and You Shall Be Pardoned

A Kadir Jasin

THE NST explained in its front-page report headlined “No Action against NST” on Feb. 25 that two reasons were responsible for the Government not punishing it for publishing a cartoon strip mocking Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him).
One: The newspaper did not carry the controversial caricatures of Prophet Muhammad that had sparked outcry around the world.
Two: NST had apologised unreservedly over the issue.
Setting the NST free was the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who is also Internal Security Minister.
So that there will be no further misunderstanding and allegations of vendetta, let me quote from the NST’s own report. It says:
“Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the issue was considered over as the newspaper had expressed regret over what had happened.”
Considered over, said the Prime Minister. Considered over is different from over. As considered done does not necessarily mean done. That’s if we want to split hairs.
As such, I will not join the newly minted Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin a.k.a Zam in declaring the whole episode as “the beginning of the new era”. That’s what the NST in its Feb. 25 report quoted him as saying.
What new era? An era where you can make a grave mistake, defy public opinion but not being punished and get to keep your plump job? If that’s what Zam meant by a new era, I am sad to say that we are actually entering a sad new era in Malaysian journalism. Make mistake and your apology shall set you free.
If I were Zam, I would not rush to embrace or declare anybody my best friend, at least not for the moment. Only days earlier Zam was crossing swords with the very same people he now calls his old friends.
Then again I understand Zam’s sentiments and predicament. Unlike me, Zam is now a politician and Minister. He is no longer a simple scribe like me.
A politician must do what a politician must do, more so when RTM, a key department in Zam’s ministry, is under attack over pretty much the same issue. The attackers happen to be newspapers in the NSTP group.

What Goes On In PM’s Mind?
I would not dare fathom the Prime Minister’s thought and strategy when he made this swift decision to pardon the NST although those who are familiar with the new administration’s relationship with the new leadership of the NST have, from the beginning, not been counting on any drastic action.
But I am sure the Prime Minister is aware what the implications are when he said the issue was “considered over”. It means it may and may not be totally over.
That is because it does not stop Ministers, Umno leaders and others from asking the Prime Minister for greater explanation or demanding for sterner action against NST and its editors.
As for those of us who are delighted with the greater freedom that the Government is affording us, this is an opportunity that we must not miss. We should disassemble and analyse the issue.
It’s actually pretty straightforward one. On Feb 19, the NST published a cartoon by Wiley Miller, which some readers viewed as offensive.
This is where I got sucked in and the new crop of NST editors showed their true colours. Upon being made aware of the cartoon and upon seeing it, I sent an SMS to the newly installed NSTP Group Editor-in-Chief (GEIC) Datuk Hishamuddin Aun.
I said: “C (see) cartoon in NST 2day (today). Does it not amount 2 (to) mocking the Prophet (pbuh)?”
There was no respond from him and I thought nothing more of it. Lo and behold, on Feb. 22, the NST reprinted the cartoon and wrote a stinging editorial to defend its publication and attacked Zam, Jeff Ooi of the Screenshot fame and I as being among the people responsible for inciting hatred.
Who authored the editorial I couldn’t say for sure, but regular NST readers can sense who the writer was. The editorial accused Mr Ooi and I of carrying out a vendetta.
It went on to ask it readers to read back copies of the Malaysian Business magazine “to see how doggedly I had attacked the NSTP Group and its executives.”

Kill The Messengers
That’s fine with me. If the Roman Emperors fed the messengers and the Christians to the lion, what is there to stop the NST from doing the same with “bad people” like Zam, Jeff Ooi and I.
The issue at hand was certainly not my SMS to Hishamuddin, Jeff Ooi’s blog or Zam purported call for the sacking of NST editors. The issue was the publication of a cartoon that was deemed to be offensive. As it turned out many people and parties shared that conclusion.
Hundreds of protestors marched on Jalan Riong, where the NSTP headquarters is located, after Friday prayer on Feb. 24. Although the newspapers identified them as Pas and Keadilan members, there were others who represented Mara Junior College Alumni (Ansara) and a host of non-political organisations.
The NST should have addressed that issue instead of finding fault with the people who alerted it to the publication of the cartoon. It wasn’t such a difficult issue after all. If a mistake had been made – intentionally or due to oversight -- it should just say sorry.
The Muslims, even the most conservative ones, are not unreasonable. But very few Muslims these days are in the mood to be humoured by such a comic strip following the insult by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
If it was a genuine mistake or an oversight and the paper said sorry, I don’t think any Muslim, even if he is fanatical, would ask for the editor’s pound of flesh. Instead the NST, through its editorial, mocked them and called them names.
In any case, a careful study of the Wiley Miller cartoon shows that it is loaded with suggestions and insinuations that are insulting to the Muslims. That’s if the person making the study understands Islam and the minds of Muslims.
In very simple language, the cartoon says Kevin, an artist, will draw you caricatures of Prophet Muhammad while you wait. And for daring to draw the Prophet’s caricatures, “Kevin finally achieves his goal to be the most feared man in the world.”
If that is not mocking the Prophet, I don’t know what it is. Whether the readers judged it positively, negatively or with indifference, is immaterial. As Muslims and Malaysians, we should know that we do not laugh at the expense of the Prophet.
In the light of the Jyllands-Posten incident that led to protests by the Muslims worldwide – including in Europe, America and Australia -- the NST should know that this is not the time for humour, wry or otherwise, or for testing the boundary of tolerance.

Much Ado About Nothing?
It is shocking that one Muslim editor in the group should consider the issue as “much ado about nothing.” This is not the time to be talking Shakespeare!
When you are the editor-in-chief of the NSTP or its editorial adviser, you are bound to have detractors. But the readers who point out things to you or comment on your reports are not necessarily your enemies.
They may not be your friends but they are, nevertheless, important because they buy and read your paper. They pay your salary. Only a rabid dog would bite the hands that feed it!
Believing that there is such a thing as the right of reply, I wrote a letter-to-the-editor addressed to Hishamuddin to clarify points in its editorial that were attributed to me. That was on Feb. 22. He neither acknowledged its receipt nor printed it.
It was short simple letter. It says: “What the NST Says. The above report in the New Straits Times, Feb 22 is referred. I would like to put on record the following for the benefit of your readers:
1. As a subscriber and reader of the NST, I think it is my right to react and respond to items published in the paper;
2. My SMS to you reads: “C (see) cartoon in NST 2day (today). Does it not amount 2 (to) mocking the Prophet (pbuh)?” I did not make any conclusion. I merely posed a question. And I said the Prophet and not Islam;
3. I did not make a police report. Your report could give the impression that it did;
4. Thank you for suggesting to your readers that they read back copies of the Malaysian Business to see how doggedly I had attacked the NSTP Group and its executives; and
5. I hope to see this printed in full for the sake of accuracy, press freedom and fair journalism. Thank You.”
I am not sure if the paper still practices the right of reply policy. I hope it still does. This is because it has made press freedom, transparency and accountability its daily mantra.
The last minute apology may have saved the NST from official sanction. But a few questions remain outstanding.
For a start, was the apology truly unreserved? Was it really totally, absolutely, completely, entirely, fully and wholeheartedly unreserved?
As we can see, it was accompanied by a long series of qualifications, explanations and justifications. Is that what “unreservedly” means?
And why this “unreserved apology” when only hours before that NST editors were told that the paper would not budge because it had not made any mistake and that all its troubles were caused by Zam, Kadir and Jeff Ooi?

Was The NST Under Pressure?
Was there a pressure from outside for the NST to apologise in order to make it easy for the authorities not to punish it? A lot of readers believed that it was.
And if by apologising the NST was set free, what are we to make out of the indefinite suspension of Sarawak Tribune and two weeks suspension of the evening edition of Guang Ming Daily?
Like the NST, they too apologised. Maybe they were punished because they published a cartoon from the original series. Of course the two papers are nowhere in comparison to the mighty NSTP. Does size and who you know also matter in this case?
Datuk Kalimullah Hassan, who is now NSTP’s deputy chairman and editorial adviser, makes no secret his closeness to the Prime Minister.
One has only to read back copies of the NST to understand this. Take his article entitled “Untouchable we’re not but we stand firm” in the April 27, 2004 issue of the NST for example. It was my critique in the Malaysian Business of this particular article that led to the NSTP to ban all advertisements by Berita Publishing Sdn Bhd (the publisher of Malaysian Business) in all its newspapers from June last year. The ban continues despite appeals and the fact that Kalimullah is no longer the GEIC.
Editors come and go but the newspapers remain. Many editors were sacked. Some were pressured to resign. Others stepped down voluntarily when they felt that they could no longer carry out their responsibility effectively. Would this happen to the NST editors? We will have to wait and see.

Make NST Credible, Says PM
Kalimullah, in the same article, told his readers that the Abdullah had only one advice for him when he was made GEIC of the NSTP (in 2004) --- make the NST a credible and professional newspaper.
Following the fiasco and the apology, can we say that NST is a credible and professional newspaper as the Prime Minister had wanted it to be?
It is up to as us as subscribers and readers to judge. What we can say with a measure of certainty is that in the issue of the publication of the insulting cartoon, the NST is more equal than other offending newspapers.
Just how dire Kalimullah’s situation as deputy chairman-cum-editorial adviser has become is explained in his own column in today’s (Feb. 26) New Sunday Times when he said he was left with only three friends during the crisis – the NSTP Ceo, Datuk Syed Faisal Albar (the grandson of the Lion of Umno, late Syed Jaafar Albar, if I am not mistaken), Hishamuddin and NST Sdn Bhd Group Editor Brendan Pereira.
It is sad that for a group that boasts hundreds of journalists, the handling of the crisis was left in the hand of the gang of four. What has happened to camaraderie and solidarity that was once the cornerstone of the paper?
Has comradeship and professionalism deteriorated so badly in such a short period? Or have others been systematically excluded from the decision-making process that was once the hallmark of the NSTP?
According to Kalimullah, the last five days had been unproductive and filled with so much negative energy. Is handling public anger over the insult on Prophet Muhammad unproductive?
My friend P.C. Shivadas surely has an answer for this. When I took over NST from him in 1988, he continued to serve on the NST editorial committee until I resigned in 2000. He remains a director of NSTP Bhd till this day.
Shiv, apa dah jadi man? Your silence is deafening, brother!


Anonymous said...

Media di negara ini membosankan. Hanya ada satu, yang membuka langkah baru, yang, mencipta sejarah:

Bawa yang baru, tinggalkan yang lama; yang terlalu banyak pura-pura!!!

fathi aris omar said...

Salam, Datuk,

I agree with you, this part of the piece 'Apologise and You Shall Be Pardon':

"If I were Zam, I would not rush to embrace or declare anybody my best friend, at least not for the moment. Only days earlier Zam was crossing swords with the very same people he now calls his old friends."

Al-mu Syahrisyawal Ahmad said...

"Biar putih tulang..."

I'm just a young reader and a young writer.

It's really great to know that someone is actually willing to state some things...

Thank you for that.

It's sad to see how NST is like now, after seeing all the efforts being put to strengthen our "benteng pertahanan".

Syawal Ahmad

mut said...

Are you sure the NST has a policy of the right to reply? Since when has this been the case?

raja said...

NST was not only mocking the Prophet s.a.w. but also the protests made by Muslims all over the world!!

About Me

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I was born in 1947 in Kedah. I came from a rice farming family. I have been a journalist since 1969. I am the Editor-in-Chief of magazine publishing company, Berita Publishing Sdn Bhd. I was Group Editor NST Sdn Bhd and Group Editor-in-Chief of NSTP Bhd between 1988 and 2000. I write fortnightly column “Other Thots” in the Malaysian Business magazine, Kunta Kinte Original in Berita Harian and A Kadir Jasin Bercerita in Dewan Masyarakat. Books: Biar Putih Tulang (1998), Other Thots – Opinions & Observations 1992-2001 (2001), The Wings of an Eagle (2003), Mencari Dugalia Huso (2006), Damned That Thots (2006), Blogger (2006), PRU 2008-Rakyat Sahut Cabaran (2008), Komedi & Tragedi-Latest in Contemporary Malaysian Politics (2009) and Membangun Bangsa dengan Pena (2009).