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Reporters pay surprise ‘visit’ to Malaysiakini
5:40pm, Wed: A dozen members of the local media visited malaysiakini’s office at Bangsar Utama, Kuala Lumpur, today on hearing rumours of a raid by government officials.
The group, comprising journalists from national news agency Bernama, dailies New Straits Times and China Press, as well as broadcasters RTM, TV3 and NTV7, was seen waiting outside the building at about 1.45pm.
A malaysiakini reporter who was on her way back from lunch asked the waiting crowd why they were loitering outside the office.
One journalist told her that Home Ministry officials were about to visit Malaysiakini.com. However, another reporter said that the officials were supposed to be from the Information Ministry.
But no government official turned up. It is unclear who started the rumours.
Editor Steven Gan welcomed the group at about 2pm and showed them into the company’s board room where they met with MKini DotCom chief executive officer Premesh Chandran and news editor Fathi Aris Omar.
When asked by Gan who sent them there, the journalists replied that they had been instructed by their editors to cover the “visit of government officials” to malaysiakini.
Later, however, some denied that they received information that ministry officials were supposed to visit the office of the controversial online newspaper.
No press conference
The journalists then pressed for a media conference from malaysiakini.
After a brief discussion with Chandran and Fathi, Gan told the reporters that he would not be answering any questions. The reporters were, however, encouraged to send any questions in writing.
“Our comments can be taken out of context, so we are not answering any questions. We did not call for a press conference,” said Gan.
Yesterday, parliamentary secretary to the Information Ministry Zainuddin Maidin accused malaysiakini of seeking help from opposition parties DAP and Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) to “clear its name over its funding controversy on its alleged link” to George Soros, the international currency speculator.
“Statements by leaders of the two parties were run in malaysiakini's website together with comments by writers known to be supporters of the opposition," he told Bernama.
On Monday, the online daily ran a report quoting from press statements released by DAP chairman Lim Kit Siang, PRM vice-president Rustam Sani and the Coalition of Independent Media Activists (Kami) spokesperson Ahmad Lufti Othman, which criticised the move to bar malaysiakini journalists from covering government functions (Ban on journalists aimed to stifle independent media, Feb 12).
It is learnt that the press statements from the three were also sent to other media organisations, but none were carried elsewhere.
According to Bernama, Zainuddin also said that editor Gan had refused to be interviewed by RTM because it was one-sided.
“I would like to ask, is it not bias on the part of malaysiakini for the news reports it ran that came only from one side and in the form of sensationalism?" Zainuddin asked.
"Today alone, a major portion of its news is in sensational form and giving a picture as though Malaysia is gripped by economic and political pressures and turmoil."
On Feb 1, regional weekly Far Eastern Economic Review in its Feb 8 online edition ran an interview with Soros, and in its introductory notes said that among the media organisations which have received funding from Soros’ Open Society Foundation was Malaysiakini.com.
Malaysiakini has since refuted the allegations and the Review has clarified that the Open Society Foundation funded Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa), and that Seapa is one of the funders for malaysiakini.
However, Chandran immediately pointed out in a statement that the Review’s clarification was “misleading” because it implied that the company received funds indirectly from Soros, which is not the case.
Both Seapa and the Open Society Institute, the organisation which administers Soros funds, have issued statements saying that the Review report was false, and no Soros funds went to malaysiakini, directly or otherwise.
On Feb 5, Deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung stated that malaysiakini has been barred from covering any government functions, on grounds that its journalists do not have press accreditation and that it is critical of the government. The next day, however, he denied saying the web-based daily was barred due to its critical stance (Ban on all press members without passes: Chor.
However, on the same day of Chor’s announcement, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi allowed the online journalists to cover one of his official functions although his press aides were at first hesitant because of the daily’s purportedly persona non grata status.
Last Sunday, Zainuddin explained that the ban was not because the website was critical of the government, but because of doubts regarding malaysiakini’s credibility.
He said that the online daily’s credibility had been undermined by the Review’s report that it had received aid from Soros.