KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Political analysts claimed today that the Home Ministry’s latest decision in not renewing Harakah’s printing permit and issuing it a show-cause letter was proof that the Najib administration was “allergic to criticisms”.
But they believe that any move to stop Harakah from publishing its biweekly newspaper would only serve to damage Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration.
Harakah’s printing permit expired on July 7 and it was issued a show-cause letter by the ministry the very next day, July 8, while the permit of Suara Keadilan, another Pakatan Rakyat newspaper, had expired on June 30. Both have yet to be renewed by the ministry.
While both PAS and PKR have said that they will carry on printing their respective party mouthpieces without a permit renewal, only PAS’s Harakah hit the streets today with PKR’s Suara Keadilan still nowhere to be seen.
“This just shows that the government is allergic to criticisms. They are trying to teach the media a lesson. Perhaps the government is trying to stop these newspapers (Harakah and Suara Keadilan) which are threatening their control, their power with their news reports,” said Dr Agus Yusoff, a political analyst from UKM.
Agus said the government of the day had the obligation to maintain press freedom and that any action against Harakah would only weaken public perception towards Najib’s administration.
“This is going to have a negative impact, definitely. I mean how are you going to attract people, the youths, when you go and stop Harakah from publishing. If the government does this, it would seem like they have no credibility.
“Action should be taken against Harakah only if there is a serious accusation. As far as I understand, the reasons for the show-cause letter are matters that can be dealt with at an administrative level,” he said.
Agus told The Malaysian Insider that the ministry should “just let Harakah continue printing its publications without pressure”.
“It’s just because of a difference in political views… ini perkara remeh (it’s a small matter). We need to practise democracy. I don’t think Harakah has done anything wrong,” he said.
Another analyst, Professor James Chin, claimed that the “timeliness” of the ministry’s move to not renew Harakah’s printing permit was a signal that snap elections were around the corner.
“By delaying the permit, it is a sure sign that a general election is around the corner.
“This is a clear case of the federal government flexing its muscles. This is a case of harassment, an oppression of the media. They do this once in a while to show unhappiness, they have done that with Suara Keadilan,” he said.
He said the ministry’s action against Harakah would force the party organ to resort to extreme measures.
“By not issuing the permit, they (the ministry) are forcing Harakah to print illegally, pushing them to a corner.
“Harakah now has two alternatives. They can either go 100 per cent online, or sue the government, because it is a political party newspaper. They can take the legal route and abandon any pretense,” Chin told The Malaysian Insider.
The Monash University lecturer said he was not surprised with what happened, adding that any form of harassment was “quite normal”.
“The harassment is quite normal. Nothing has changed in the government’s treatment of the media. The media has always been suppressed, controlled through various ownership structures.
“The only difference between Dr Mahathir’s time and now is that people were afraid of Mahathir, now they are not afraid,” quipped Chin.
But UKM political analyst Dr Shamsul Adabi Mamat dismissed the possibility that the ministry’s recent actions were a prelude to snap elections.
“This is not a sign that a general election is around the corner. This is just what is being propagated by the opposition. There are clear indicators of a general election, like if it is mentioned during the Umno general assembly. Besides that, the New Economic Model (NEM) and the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) have still not been properly put in place yet. It’s too short a time, people won’t have enough time to judge the performance of the government as well as the opposition,” he said.
However, he believes that the ministry will eventually renew Harakah’s permit despite the delay.
He claimed that the delay had caused PAS supporters to jump to the conclusion that the ministry was setting its own “personal agenda”.
“I believe it’s actually an arrangement issue. By coincidence Suara Keadilan did not get its renewal issued, so there’s a perception of biasness. The ministry is probably just clearing up all matters before it issues the permit,” he said.
In a phone interview with The Malaysian Insider, Shamsul said if misconceptions about the ministry’s actions were to continue, it would be possible that Harakah’s permit renewal would not see the light of day.
“This can also happen if PAS fails to control the perception of its supporters. Besides, Harakah has also been rather extreme lately.
“If you see recently an article accusing Tun Dr Mahathir of being a gambling addict published recently… for Malaysians, Tun is a fine leader. It’s not right to make that kind of statements against him.
“This in turn can create more tension among non-Muslims and Muslims, and if PAS takes this approach, the government may ban Harakah,” said Shamsul.
Harakah became the second Pakatan Rakyat (PR) newspaper to be served with a show-cause letter from the ministry for allegedly violating its publication permit.
Harakah’s acting chief editor Taufek Yahya told The Malaysian Insider the management of the PAS publication received the letter dated July 7.
The letter was received just three days after he was called to meet the ministry’s acting deputy secretary-general Datuk Abdul Rahim Mohd Radzi.
Taufek said he would reply to the letter within seven days.
The show-cause letter instructed the publishers of Harakah to explain why they had failed to furnish the ministry with eight copies of each edition prior to distribution.
The ministry also asked why Harakah had been allegedly sold openly and to non-party members.
During the meeting last Monday, Taufek said the ministry only raised the need to submit the eight copies and Harakah’s reports on sensitive issues such as the Felda management, Jamaah Islamiyah and the sports betting licence.
But the party organ’s managing director Datuk Kamarudin Jaffar said today that since there was no blanket ban from the ministry on stopping the newspaper’s publication pending the renewal of its permit, Harakah will still carry on printing and distributing copies.
“Harakah will carry on as usual. We are also confident that the Home Ministry will issue the permit as usual,” Kamaruddin, who is also former PAS secretary-general, told The Malaysian Insider this morning.
Harakah has a circulation of about 100,000 and is published fortnightly.
This is the second time since Election 2008 the newspaper is facing stern action from the ministry.
It was suspended early last year, but the suspension was lifted on the day Datuk Seri Najib Razak was sworn in as prime minister.