The Chief Minister has lost his cool and demanded the federal government adopt illegal means to jam the independent radio station, Radio Free Sarawak.
At the same time, his political client, the leader of PRS James Masing, appeared even more heat up as he called for the military to be brought in to shut the station up, as it has been “poisoning the minds” of his constituents!
““We have sent men to the moon and vehicles to Mars, so don’t tell me that we can’t even jam these radio stations.”[Masing]
Considering the balance of power over the media in Sarawak, it would seem these two big dogs are making a great deal of fuss over one very small flea.
BN’s media monopoly
After all, for the past 40 years Taib and his family have exercised total control over the local press and broadcast media, either through direct family members or the owners of crony logging companies. The national media meanwhile is controlled by his allies in UMNO and their business clients.
The method is simple, BN bans anyone from publishing anything without a licence and they only give licences to people they can trust and control.
This means BN in Sarawak have got used to having all news reported just as they want (or suppressed altogether if that is what they prefer) and the public have simply not been allowed to hear a single word of criticism or an inconvenient fact about the government for several decades.
It is such a family affair indeed that Taib’s own daughter Hanifah, who clearly fancies herself a top journalist, has installed herself as the boss of Sarawak’s second paper, The Sarawak Tribune.
Getting the job would not have been hard and it certainly did not involve training or rising up through the ranks. Because the ownership of Tribune Press Sdn Bhd is in the hands of none other than her father’s ubiquitous cousin and favourite business proxy, Hamed Sepawi and his ever-present business parter Hasmi bin Hasnan (who suddenly hit riches after a career in Taib’s own Land & Survey Department).
The Borneo Post meanwhile and its sister paper Utusan Borneo are controlled by Taib’s crony timber company KTS.
When foreign journalists, including the news agency Agence France Press (AFP) came to report on protests and blockades against logging being carried out by Pusaka KTS the Borneo Post immediately reported as front page headlines that the protests were caused by ‘Foreign Instigators”!
Could not such reporting be described as somewhat self-serving?Another major shareholder of the Borneo Post is Taib’s brother, the YB Mohd Ali Mahmud.
And then there is the Star Newspaper which is majority owned by the Malay Chinese Association, the second biggest party in BN and the New Straits Times, which like a string of other newspapers and all the non-government TV news channels is owned by the UMNO controlled media giant Media Prima.
RTM is of course controlled by the government and the only satellite station in Malaysia, Astro (which is being distributed round the longhouses during the election free to try and counter Radio Free Sarawak) is owned by Malaysia’s second richest man Ananda Krishnan, who got rich by sucking up to BN.
And what about Sarawak’s only “Private” radio station Cats Radio?
How did it manage to get its licence while nobody else did you might wonder? Kristal Harta is owned by Hanib Corporation and Hanib Corporation is owned once more by Hanifah Taib, her sister in law Anisa (married to brother Sulaiman) and yet another Taib brother, her late Uncle Ibrahim Mahmud!
So when it comes to the media in Sarawak, like everything else it is pretty much a Taib family affair!
Elephant afraid of a mouse?
So why are the Chief Minister and his henchmen becoming so hysterical about a modest two hour daily show that is broadcast on shortwave radio (and available online SW15420kHz)?
How can Radio Free Sarawak threaten a media monopoly that controls nearly every single thing that people can read and listen to in the Sarawak interior and why should minds be “poisoned” by just a few programmes when they have been “educated and informed” by years and years of relentless BN propaganda everywhere they turn?
How can two hours of Radio Free Sarawak undo all BN’s efforts?
Maybe it is because Radio Free Sarawak offers hope and maybe it is because Radio Free Sarawak is saying for the first time out loud those obvious and simple truths that everyone can recognise about what has been going on in Sarawak?
Instead of ‘double-speak’ from politicians who argue black is white and get away with spouting rubbish, because no one dares challenge them, on Radio Free Sarawak you hear real people talking about what has happened to their lives.
This little programme provides an alternative for Sarawak’s cheated poor communities, who have lost everything to the greedy gangsters who have hijacked their government.
For years the BN press and radio lectured them that they had no other choice and that they should never criticise their rulers, because they would suffer and be punished. Now Radio Free Sarawak has stood up to the bullies and they are lost for a reply .
BN is boring
The danger for BN is that Radio Free Sarawak is not poisoning minds, it is liberating minds. A free media is a pillar of democracy and by destroying it Taib has set out to kill democracy in Sarawak.
By refusing to allow criticism, by refusing to let people listen to contrasting views, by banning inconvenient information Taib has ruled as a totalitarian despot, not the ‘democratically elected leader’ he likes to pretend that he is.
But he has also pent up a great deal of frustration, so that when listeners finally hear a fresh view they embrace it with enthusiasm.
Without a free press there has been no accountability for Taib’s government. The Mahmuds have got away with taking everything and they have never been challenged. Until one little voice which has at last spoken out with RFS.
So, Taib is right to be afraid. Small voices can say big things. They can reveal vast corruption, they can explain the reason behind things, they can challenge self-serving politicians, they can bring news and they can offer alternatives and choices that BN don’t want people to know or think about.
In the uneven struggle between Taib’s media monolith and little Radio Free Sarawak, maybe truth, now that it is being heard, can win?
“freeing the press has become absolutely critical in achieving greater accountability in that country [Indonesia]” [Tim Lankester, Ex-Foreign Office and President of Corpus Christi Oxford, speaking this week about why Indonesia is much more democratic and accountable than Malaysia]