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BBC: Journalists protest in Kuala Lumpur [The Sun]
By Simon Ingram

17/1/2002 2:35 am Thu asia-pacific/newsid_1763000/1763100.stm

Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 07:07 GMT

Journalists protest in Kuala Lumpur

The claim of a plot to kill Prime Minister Mahathir was untrue

By Simon Ingram in Kuala Lumpur

Journalists at The Sun, one of Malaysia's leading English language newspapers, have held a vigil in protest against the owners' decision last week to dismiss nearly half the editorial staff.

The candlelit vigil outside the paper's Kuala Lumpur offices will probably be the last of the symbolic protests, involving several dozen staff members, their friends and supporters.

They have been held every evening since New Year's Eve - a week after the tabloid daily paper ran a front-page splash story under the headline "Plot to Kill PM".

The sensational claim of a plot by local politicians to assassinate the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, was untrue.

The suspicion is that the journalists who wrote it, and the editors who decided to run it, fell into a trap.

Independent media threatened

The Sun is one of three English-language dailies in Malaysia and until now had been considered the most independent in its journalism.

In a country where most media operate under the suffocating control of the ruling National Front government, or else engage in strict self-censorship, The Sun dared print what others did not.

In particular, it reported extensively on a recent damaging split within the main pro-government ethnic Chinese party.

Following the embarrassing Christmas Day gaffe, several senior editorial staff were suspended.

Advisers appointed

The journalists who protested were among the 40 people subsequently sacked.

Meanwhile, special editorial advisors were appointed with a brief to vet all sensitive stories before publication.

A local human rights group, Aliran, said the fate of mainstream media in Malaysia was now almost sealed.

The saga of The Sun, a statement said, showed that even remotely independent journalism could not be tolerated in Malaysia and therefore could not survive.