Since Malaysia’s election last month when the opposition parties nearly knocked the government out of office (and took over government of five states in the process) there has been a surprising amount of coverage in the press about what the opposition parties have been doing.

Previously the opposition was completely ignored by the government-controlled press – unless they were being attacked by a government spokesman.

Many Malaysians have been asking whether the fact that the daily newspapers have been giving more balanced coverage to the opposition parties meant that the government had listened to the people and were now loosening the reins on the previously muzzled press.

Yesterday they had their answer when the government closed down one of the Tamil dailies. The newspaper Makkai Osai was advised that its annual publishing licence was not being renewed. No reason was given.

Today, after an outcry by the Indian community, the Home Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said it was not true that the permit was not renewed because the daily had published too many opposition stories. (Yes, we all believe that).

One of the English dailies, the Star, quoted the Minister as saying that “each newspaper was reviewed on an annual basis in terms of its contribution to society with regards to nation building and a more united Malaysia”.

Nothing about reporting the news objectively and accurately.

I guess that serves as a warning to other dailies whose licences will be due for renewal later in the year not to step out of line.

An opposition politician was quoted as saying: “The decision is shocking as it comes at a time when the people had clearly indicated through the March 8 polls that they want a new Malaysia where press freedom is a central pillar”.

Yes, that’s no doubt what the people want, but wishful thinking as far as the government is concerned.

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