Why fear ‘naughty’ RFS, Taib?

FMT staff

Radio Free Sarawak’s daily two-hour broadcast which is ‘threatening’ Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s administration is relayed in native Iban.

KUCHING: Radio Free Sarawak which has come under attack from Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his beleaguered senior Barisan Nasional leaders here denied they were being “naughty” and “poisoning the minds” of the rural masses with their daily two-hour relay, which is mainly in Iban.

Its founder-editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown said RFS’ transmission merely offered Sarawakians a chance to speak for themselves and be heard.

“How can two hours of RFS undo all of BN’s efforts of educating and informing them [Sarawakians] all these years?

“All that RFS is doing is saying for the first time what has been going on in Sarawak. We are relaying these obvious and simple truths that everyone can recognise.

“RFS is not poisoning minds, it is liberating minds. A free media is a pillar of democracy,” said Rewcastle-Brown in response to both Taib and his Senior Minister James Masing’s accusations and demand that the federal government put a halt to RFS’s transmission.

Masing, whose Parti Rakyat Sarawak colleague James Salang is the deputy federal minister of Information, Culture and Communications, urged the authorities to find some means to “jam” the RFS transmission which was popular among the state’s native Iban community.

It is common knowledge that Taib has a tight grip – directly and via his cronies – on the local mass media and reports seen to be detrimental to Taib, his family and their cronies are blacked out. Likewise with the federal Umno and MCA-linked major English and Bahasa Malaysia dailies.

The current uncertainties in federal-level politics, a looming 13th general election and a dispirited Sarawak BN are a worry for Taib. On one end, he has Umno to contend with and on the other, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s persistence.

His own Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu party, which once offered guarantees, is now divided. Rumours are rife that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has “dropped” nine of his men from the candidates’ list and that Anwar has been engaging his “Taib’s men”.

It has not helped one bit that the coalition’s partners, Sarawak United People’s Party and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party, are also facing strife.

Sarawak has 31 parliamentary seats and already Anwar has declared that his Pakatan coalition was confident of 10 seats and was constantly “in touch with BN leaders” in the state.

No tolerance for anti-Taib reports

The opposition’s confidence is mostly based on its performance in the 2010 state election when it won an unprecedented 15 seats in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly.

And the credit to its success was attributed to the RFS transmission which see locals listening to the 6pm-8pm broadcast from their small made-in-China transistor radios.

During the broadcast, real people call in to talk about what has happened to their lives.

‘The programme offers an alternative to the Sarawak-cheated poor communities who’ve lost everything.

“Instead of double-speak from politicians who get away with spouting rubbish, you hear real people talking about their lives,” said Rewcastle-Brown after a recent briefing by the Human Rights organisation Suaram at the House of Commons in UK.

Rewcastle-Brown and former UK Foreign Office mandarin Tim Lankester were on the panel which met with members of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Malaysia headed by British MP Tom Greaterex and officials of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Foreign Office.

Explaining her situation, Rewcastle-Brown said the lack of tolerance for critical reporting was the reason why she broadcasted from outside Sarawak.

“I run the radio station and news blog Sarawak Report out of the UK because there is no tolerance for a critical free media in the East Malaysian state.

“Without a free press there has been no accountability for Taib’s government and they are taking away everything. They have never been challenged, “ she told FMT.

Lankester, who authored a recent book on the Pergau Dam Affair, echoed her views, adding that Malaysia had a lot to learn from Indonesia about press freedom.

“Freeing the press has become absolutely critical in achieving greater accountability in that country [Indonesia],” he said, adding that by comparison the Malaysian media “is totally controlled by the ruling coalition”.

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