Information Minister Khalil Yaakob doesn't seem to understand the simple rudiments of a functioning democracy. His statement that Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) only has to cater to Barisan Nasional component parties as it is a government agency highlights his total ignorance.
The Barisan Nasional has been in power far too long that it can no longer differentiate between party property and state facilities. RTM is funded by the television licence fees and taxes that ordinary Malaysians, including opposition supporters, pay to the government. It is not funded by the Barisan neither is it the Barisan's or Mahathir's private property.
RTM is public property and therefore it should serve the public interest. RTM can be used to explain government policies but the people also have a right to know what others, including opposition parties and non-governmental organisations, think about those policies. It cannot be used to broadcast propaganda only from the ruling party while denying access to opposition parties.
We all know that even private television and radio stations will be reluctant to provide access to opposition parties because these stations depend on the Barisan government for their licences.
The Information Minister must realise that people need to hear alternative views to make informed opinions. If this simple fundamental right is denied, then Khalil's Ministry doesn't deserve to be called the Information Ministry; it should instead be renamed the Barisan Propaganda Ministry.
When parliament is dissolved for the general election, the distinction between party property and state facilities becomes all the more crucial. The government becomes a caretaker government and political parties such as the Barisan have no right to use state facilities to further their electoral interests. If the Barisan uses state facilities for its campaign purposes - whether directly or indirectly - then it is guilty of illegal electoral practices. Khalil should be aware that former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi lost her seat because she used government facilities during election campaigning in the early 1970s.
In most mature civil societies, state-run television and radio stations provide fair access for all political parties taking part in an election. Many democratic societies even cater for 'live' debates among contending parties to help the public understand the various party policies.
The Barisan is obviously running scared because it cannot match the opposition in debating alternative policies. The ruling coalition is afraid that its credibility would be eroded even more if it allows opposition parties access to radio and television. That's the real reason it cannot afford to allow fair access to the media and a free and fair election.
Is the Barisan so paranoid about losing its grip on power that it wants to ride roughshod over democratic principles and deny other parties any access to the mainstream media? If Khalil and the Barisan believe they have the support of the people, they shouldn't behave in such a cowardly manner. We dare the Barisan to meet the opposition parties in face-to-face 'live' television debates to convince the people that it should be given another mandate.
Aliran Executive Committee
3 July 1999