By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
Last week were the dark days for the civil society and the media. It is a retrogression in democracy and is not good for the government's reforms.
The Bersih 3.0 rally was ended in violence, followed by the mutual accusations between the ruling and alternative coalitions. No one has claimed the responsibility for the bloodshed and violent incident so far.
Members of the media covering the rally were roughed up, arrested and their photos were deleted. The police has not made an open apology while the government and relevant ministers have not made an explanation over the interference in the freedom of the press, as well as the personal safety for pressmen. It seems that nothing has happened.
The police is more concerned about who had removed the barricades, tried to make their way to the Dataran Merdeka and attacked the police officers. The police decided to release photos of the troublemakers and the emphasis seems to be on the troublemakers and police officers are the victims, while rally participants and injured pressmen are only of secondary importance.
The police's act of violence this time is unusual. Policemen were still searching and hitting those who wore yellow shirts even after 7pm that day. The people can hardly be convinced without an explanation on why some police officers had gone out of control.
The Cabinet has given an instruction to set up an independent panel to review the results of police investigations and the police has set up a special investigation group to look into the alleged violent incident, however, it is most important to seek the public's confidence.
If the independent panel has no authority to hold a public hearing, how should the evidence showing the policemen's misconducts be made public then? How are they going to ensure that the police investigations are fair and transparent?
If the government refuses to set up an independent commission or a Royal Commission to conduct a thorough investigation to clarify the truth, the violent incident of the Bersih 3.0 rally will forever be a stain of the country's history.
It is a fact that some police officers had used violence against rally participants and journalists. Wrong means wrong. The police force should not try to quibble it by saying that "even if 14 policemen were involved, it was only 0.001%". Being responsible is also one of the principles that must be complied with in the government's transformation efforts.
Chinese newspapers had printed their front pages in black and while on the World Press Freedom Day while members of the media, including Sin Chew Daily comrades all over the country, had dressed in black with a yellow ribbon, to express their anger and protest against the police's act of violence, while reminding all that the freedom of the press is an important part of the country's transformation. Without the freedom of the press, the government's transformation plans will be incomplete.
We doubt the authority's determination in upholding the freedom of the press. Although the Printing Presses and Publications (Amendment) Bill was recently passed in the Dewan Rakyat, the Home Ministry can still revoke or suspend the permit at any time. Malaysia was categorised as a country with Partly Free Press in the Freedom of the Press Survey 2012. In other words, the country does not have sufficient press freedom and the media are still being restricted.
Satellite TV network Astro had to censor the BBC news report on the Bersih 3.0 rally "to comply with the national content regulations". It is also the plight of the media under control.
The government's stand in transformation is also not strong enough. For example, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia Bhd called off the share swap between the two airlines under the strong opposition from MAS Employees Union (Maseu) and Umno, causing it hard for MAS to revive from its financial crisis. Such a sharp U-turn is not unusual and politics has been prioritised above all. How could the media have confidence that the very little press freedom that we are having today will be gradually improved?
It is necessary to make a public apology and acknowledge the mistakes. An apology can also fight for the society's understanding. The police still owe members of the media an apology!