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MGG: "The Sun" affair becomes curiouser and curiouser ...
By M.G.G. Pillai

29/12/2001 1:06 pm Sat

When The Sun published a scoop on its front-page on Christmas Day of a plot to kill the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, and the deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, it did not raise havoc as such stories normally would. But the other mainstream newspapers, having missed the story, debunked it and demanded blood. Official reaction was muted, even if it was denied. The Prime Minister is offended only because the story was carried around the world, and that would make foreign investors not come here. It is the offhanded comment we have come to expect of him when he knows all about it. It is more than that.

Those who follow the byzantine world of Malay and UMNO politics saw it no more than an UMNO reaction to the undercurrent rumours that the jailed former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, could well be rehabilitated and in UMNO before the next general elections. It does not matter everyone involved denies it, but the Malay perspective is what matters. The Sun would not have written of the plot without ample confirmation, and I hear a senior aide to the Prime Minister was aware of it before it appeared. It was a scoop. The other newspapers, having missed it, wanted blood, blood they got. Those who ran the Sun had to provide the cannon fodder when the Prime Minister himself led the charge. Even the police inquiries have a Keystone Cops tone to it. Indeed, the Sun editor, Mr Andy Ng, told the Malay Mail that it had the story weeks before it was published and verified the facts with a deputy minister and a deputy press secretary. It is fair to assume that both would have alerted the offices of the prime minister and deputy prime minister.

Now we find that two days after the story appeared, and after the Executor Director and Editor-in-Chief, Mr H'ng Hung Yong, and others resigned, the Sun Media Corporation appointed the holiday companion of Chief Justices and Attorneys-General, Dato' V.K. Lingam, as its deputy chairman, and Mr Frankie Tay Thiam Siew as executive director. Dato Lingam, who returned a fortnight ago from a three-month trip overseas, is described in the Sun today as "a very prominent lawyer ... an expert in media and corporate law ... (with) ... vast experience in the Corporate sector".

The Sun Media Corporation is in the corporate stable of that internationally known business man of unquestioned repute, Tan Sri Dato' Seri Vincent Tan, who returns as a favoured crony of the Establishment and UMNO. He failed to make privatised sewage pay, and the government had to take it back; his business empire, with debts of more than RM4 billion, would have to be rescued, and yet he is to be awarded another another privatisation of which his share is worth up to RM3 billion.

There are other unanswered questions. Did one prominent religious leader, now in restricted residence, meet Dr Mahathir after some UMNO plotters invited him into the plot? If he did, Dr Mahathir could not have been surprised when it appeared. It is in the nature of such plots that others would not join plot without confirmation other than word-of-mouth. In other words, this plot was an internal machination to force the leadership of UMNO after Dr Mahathir into the open.

Who could have organised it? One could be the Prime Minister's own men to burnish his badly tarred image and rally the crowd; another those wary of Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim returning to UMNO and those who believe that without major changes UMNO is dead. I reject the third: that the story was fed to the Sun to force the changes that have taken place. So, the Prime Minister's offhand response is what I expect of him, especially if he knew, as he appears to, the background. But the Prime Minister cannot dismiss this as casually as he has, without acting against those responsible, especially the deputy minister and the deputy press secretary. For without their confirmation, this story would not have appeared.

Today's Sun story reveals something else. The Sun is among the breeziest and best written of Malaysian newspapers, with a coverage that leaves the New Straits Times and the Star far behind. It comes up with stories that explain and reveal more than the others. And it comes up with news items which embarass the government, which could not be heavy handed with the press without attracting cries of censorship and other. It still smarts from its bruising battle with Malaysiakini. But now The Sun is reined in without any need for it. It is possible, indeed probably, Tan Sri Dato' Seri Vincent Tan's future in the government gravy train is subject to the Sun put in its place.

So, it is logical the very prominent lawyer and expert in media and corporate law with vast experience in the corporate sector be brought in to turn The Sun into a Responsibe Newspaper To The Nation. This presumes, of course, it was not before, and that Tan Sri Vincent Tan had been running a subversive organ. But Malaysians are led to believe that what matters is what one says today, not what one did yesterday. And newspapers should not be run by editors and those who know what sells them. Which no doubt is how the front page story in the Sun today was written in a lawyer's office and printed without sub-editors not wielding the blue pencil as they should have. Can the Sun survive this? Only if that international business man of unquestioned repute can pay off the RM160 million or so debt The Sun Media Corporation is laden with.

M.G.G. Pillai