MALAYSIA: Tamil newspaper loses license

Coverage of ethnic Indian community's issues appear to be leading reason for government's action

By Debory Li
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In a letter last Wednesday, Malaysia's Home Ministry informed the Tamil-language newspaper Makkal Osai, also known as the People's Voice, that its annual printing permit would not be renewed, effectively shutting down the newspaper. No reasons were given for the government's decision.
 
According to an Associated Press report, Makkal Osai news editor B.R. Rajan suspected the underlying reason was due to the newspaper's critical coverage of social and political issues and "wide coverage" of the government's opposition parties. For the first time in decades, the ruling coalition lost its two-third parliamentary majority in March, although it retained overall majority. Five of the 13 state legislatures were won by opposition parties.

S.M. Periasamy, general manager of Makkal Osai, defended the newspaper, saying "We give equal coverage to all. We are not biased and we focus on ethnic Indian issues in Malaysia," according to Agence France-Presse (subscription).

Makkal Osai has had problems with the government before. Ahead of this year's parliamentary elections, the newspaper received a "small reminder" to cut down its reports of Indian protests ahead of parliamentary elections. Last August when it published a picture of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette on its front page, it was suspended for a month.

The newspaper ceased publication upon receiving the letter from the Home Ministry, but Periasamy said that he would appeal to Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar. Rajan mentioned that the newspaper would be more cautious with its content if its operating license was renewed.

Last December, Catholic newsletter The Herald was told by the Internal Security Ministry that its permit would not be renewed if it continued to use "Allah" in its Malay-language reference to God. The newsletter's license was renewed before it expired on Dec. 31 without any stipulations, but Abdullah Mohd Zin, the minister in charge of Islamic affairs, said on Jan. 4, 2008 that only Muslims can use "Allah." The Catholic Church has sued for the right to continue using the word.