Saturday 2 June 2012

Unladylike, undiplomatic attack on press - Mariam Mokhtar

Local reporters were assaulted for wanting to interview a British lady politician when she came here for a visit.

Another senior woman Muslim politician in Kuala Lumpur was implicated in serious allegations of fraud last Sunday. A reporter and his cameramen attempted to interview her, but they were verbally abused, threatened with ejection from the premises, had their camera seized and attempts were made to destroy the footage of the scuffle.

The reporting crew only wanted to obtain her side of the story about the charges levelled against her.
Anyone who aspires to be a journalist should not accept threats or assaults when doing his job; but in Malaysia many reporters face harassment almost on a daily basis.

A journalist who is attacked communicates something to us; whatever he says is potentially damaging to someone. Someone has dirt to hide.

If you thought that the fracas described above involved a Malaysian politician, then you are wrong.
The politician was Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the most senior Muslim politician in Britain who has a ministerial portfolio in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet. She is also the co-chairman of the UK’s Conservative Party. She was in Malaysia on a two-day official visit when news broke in London that she had been charged over an expenses scandal.

If you believed that the fracas involved Malaysian people only, then you are wrong, again. The shoddy treatment and verbal abuse was initiated by a lady from the NGO Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI). The assault and battery was continued by three men from the British High Commission.

One of the diplomatic staff grabbed the reporter’s camera and attempted to erase footage of the threats being directed at the reporters, moments earlier. His actions were recorded on an iPhone.

If this is how members of the diplomatic corps conduct themselves on foreign soil, then clearly they need re-training in diplomacy. It is clear that the three newsmen deserve an apology from the British High Commission, for their shabby treatment.

In Malaysia, acts of corruption happen on a daily basis that we have become immune to them. We shrug our shoulders when a new case crops up and seem resigned to a feeling of helplessness. In most cases, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) files are marked “No further Action”.

Sham investigation

Our leaders make a mockery of decent, hardworking and honest people by rewarding corrupt ones with more money and power.

It is interesting to note how the two countries – Britain and Malaysia – treat allegations of corruption and fraud.

Over here, the MACC’s investigations into the National Feedlot Corporation scandal has prompted a collective national outburst with “I told you so”, when former Women, Community and Family Development Minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, was cleared of corruption.

One political observer said, “How much did the MACC spend on proving her innocence? The MACC investigation should not have been entertained because the taxpayer pays twice. Once for her family’s abuse of taxpayer’s money. Second was for this sham investigation.”

Baroness Warsi will not be treated with kid gloves like Shahrizat and can expect a major investigation into allegations that she claimed up to 2,000 pound (around RM10,000) in expenses while staying rent-free with a friend in early 2008. There are calls for her to resign.

The amount in Lady Warsi’s case is nothing compared to Shahrizat’s family’s abuse of RM250 million of taxpayers’ money. Some British politicians value integrity and public perception highly. The rule of law does appear to exist and investigations are usually conducted independently and with impartiality, in Britain.

The attack on the three newsmen who sought to interview Lady Warsi on Monday, is interesting.

The ASLI official appeared poorly trained in dealing with the press.

Why were the three newsmen assaulted? Why were ASLI and the British diplomats on the defensive? What had they to hide? Were they afraid of sensitive questions being asked?

Great public interest

The reporters wanted to cover a story about a lady politician from Britain who was allegedly involved in defrauding the British public. This is a story which is of great interest to the public. She had come to Malaysia to meet Islamic finance experts and to explore methods to enhance links between London and Kuala Lumpur on Islamic finance.

How ironic that Lady Warsi was implicated in this embarrassing allegation at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur to discuss finance. How ironic, too, that another lady Muslim Malaysian politician, Shahrizat, happened to be in the limelight simultaneously.

The ASLI event may have been a private one, but the reporters could have been asked to wait or to return later, rather than be assaulted.

Anyone who viewed a short video clip of Lady Warsi’s trip to Kuala Lumpur would have heard her say, “I’m delighted that Britain is back in Malaysia.”

Her comments reveal that the lack of exports to Malaysia must irk the British Cabinet. The European Union is in serious trouble and the British are desperate to expand trade ties.

Baroness Warsi’s trip was weeks after the official visit by Cameron. She met with senior Malaysian ministers and government officials, including Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

Britain is Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner in Europe, with total trade in goods of RM15 billion in 2011; but the UK only accounts for one percent of Malaysia’s total imports.

Baroness Warsi and Najib’s talk would have included trade and Islamic finance. So, what other topics would they have discussed?

Jittery NGOs

In the 1980s, Mahathir was livid about disputes over aircraft landing rights and the increase in university fees for students. He brought Britain to her knees and Britain’s “Iron Lady”, former premier Margaret Thatcher, was forced to strike a deal with Mahathir to end the “Buy British Last” campaign. There was also the scandal of the Pergau dam deal between the two.

Now that Britain’s economy is suffering, will Cameron be doing similar deals with Najib via Lady Warsi?
Could the meeting up north in Bangkok between a French lawyer and his Malaysian client, the NGO Suaram, have any bearing on Najib and Baroness Warsi’s discussions?

Will Najib apply pressure on Cameron to use his persuasive powers on his French counterpart to do something about Najib’s subpoena? These deals have an effect on Malaysian bilateral trade with Europe. It worked with Mahathir, it may work with Najib.

The threats against the journalists on Monday have exposed how jittery Malaysian NGOs have become, especially those which are closely associated with the government, like ASLI.

Did ASLI want to intimidate other reporters or did they create fear to pre-empt any questioning along the Najib-Cameron lines? Should we expect aid, trade, subpoena and Scorpene to be intertwined? Is there going to be another version of the Pergau dam scandal which involved Thatcher and Mahathir?

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