Saturday, August 25, 2007

Why blame the Christians or the Muslims, when the politicians did it? (Or, the true story behind the Malaysian Jesus cigarette censorship)

Let's start at the beginning.

At the Malaysian Tamil newspaper Makkal Osai, a graphic artist went to work, as MSNBC notes.

S.M. Periasamy, general manager of the Tamil-language daily Makkal Osai...said the artist downloaded an image of Jesus from the Internet for use along with a quote from the Bible on the paper’s front page Tuesday. But the artist overlooked the fact that the image had been, with a cigarette in one hand and another object — a can or a book — in the other, he said.

Dan Soschin has some comments about this story:

I have two problems with this (and neither of them are that Jesus prefers Marlboros over Virginia Slims). The first issue is that this graphic artist, working for a publication, downloaded an image from the Internet for reprint. I'm wondering if he considered copyright issues? Probably not. As we know, pirating is a HUGE problem out in that area of the planet. The second issue is how much of an idiot this person is for not noticing the cigarette. Wait, I have a 3rd issue. How the heck did the editor miss it? These people are idiots? They must be, how do you miss these things knowing that your publication will be scrutinized severely.

Anyway, the newspaper's general manager apologized, and MSNBC notes that the apology was accepted.

Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, who earlier criticized the image as a “desecration,” accepted the newspaper’s apology. In an e-mail to Periasamy, the archbishop’s office said Pakiam now “considers the matter closed.”

But, while the Christian archbishop considered the matter closed, others did not:

However, the Malaysian Indian Congress, a party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition, filed a police report and called on the government to close the paper...

Oh, and one other thing:

...which has generally been critical of the MIC.

So now things begin to make sense. It's kind of like if Nancy Pelosi seized an opportunity to shut down the Fox News Channel, or George W. Bush seized an opportunity to shut down the New York Times. And then they blamed it on someone else.

Guess what? The plan worked.

Malaysia's government ordered a Tamil-language daily to immediately halt publication for a month Friday as punishment for printing an image of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette, an official with the newspaper said.

S.M. Periasamy, general manager of Makkal Osai, which caters to Malaysia's ethnic Indian minority, said his office received the directive by fax from the Internal Security Ministry.

"Of course we are shocked by this. My entire staff are all in tears. They will lose a month of income," Periasamy said, adding that the newspaper would abide by the order but plans to appeal the suspension.

Then the AP writer added the following:

Ministry officials in this Muslim-majority nation could not immediately be reached for comment.

Which implies that it's the evil, freedom-hating Muslims who shut down the paper. But the Ministry officials probably wouldn't have done anything if the Malaysian Indian Congress hadn't filed the police report in the first place.

And people are probably blaming the Christians, even though the local archibishop already expressed forgiveness.

Needless to say, the writer of Pavablog is not happy:

Lift The Suspension Of Makkal Osai Immediately!Do Not Use My Faith As An Excuse For Oppression!

And this isn't the first time that Makkal Osai has been attacked:

A Tamil-language daily, “Makkal Osai”, has received phone calls from individuals threatening to burn down its offices and legal notice of defamation suits after publishing reports revealing “controversial” comments allegedly made by a cabinet minister.

S.M. Periasamy, group general manager of Makkal Osai Group, said he received anonymous telephone calls on 18 and 23 May 2006, as well as two legal notices of defamation suits, according to a press statement released by Malaysia’s media advocacy group, the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), on 26 May.

The statement quoted Periasamy as saying that the caller linked the threat to the newspaper’s 17 May story on comments made by Works Minister S. Samy Vellu that Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was to be blamed for the Malaysian Indians’ lack of “development”.

The caller also threatened to burn copies of the newspaper to prevent its circulation, the manager said.

On 20 May, a group of presumed members of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), one of the main political parties in the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, publicly torched copies of the newspaper. MIC denied that its members were involved.

Vellu, who is also MIC president, is also suing “Makkal Osai” for defamation, despite the latter’s claims it has tapes to prove that the minister made the comments that the newspaper attributed to him, CIJ said.

But things were happening even before last May:

Maika Holdings was established in 1982 as the investment arm of Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), purportedly to enable Indian Malaysians to share in the country’s economy growth. Samy Vellu’s son S Vell Paari, is Maika Holdings’s CEO.

In April 1992, it was discovered that Maika Holdings involved in a 9 million Telekom shares scandal....

Last November, Samy Vellu gave a personal assurance that that investors would receive RM130 for every RM100 invested by Feb 15. He further assured shareholders will get back their money in three months....

Tamil-language daily Makkal Osai has been running a countdown to the deadline, publishing articles from grassroots leaders and shareholders reminding Samy Vellu and Vell Paari about the repayment.

I never did find out what happened about the repayment, but Makkal Osai clearly got the payback.

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Newswatch said...

Well stitched together.

Dan Soschin said...

mrontemp - I think your point that the government seized the opportunity to shut down a paper it didn't favor was right on... Though I haven't followed the story too close, I'm sure there have been other past issues far more severe (in their minds) than Jesus with a cigarette. No one seems to care either, as Beyonce and Gwen Stefani don't seem to mind compromising their artistic shows to appease an oppressive government. I don't necessarily fault Gwen or miss Knowles, as they probably were unaware of these issues until the last minute, but sometimes the persuit of cash is far greater than one's beliefs.