Monday, August 27, 2007


In February last year, two newspapers were suspended for publishing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad which had appeared in the Danish newspapers. The Sarawak Tribune was suspended indefinitely for reproducing the caricature while Guan Ming daily was suspended for two weeks for carrying a picture of a man reading a Danish paper with the caricature visible.

Thus one would have thought the incident, the people’s reaction and the government’s response was a sobering reminder to be mindful and sensitive of another’s religion. Alas, it would seem that lessons have yet to be learnt.

Now we have the Tamil newspaper Makkal Ossai or The People’s Voice insulting the Catholics by printing in its Tuesday edition a picture of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette in one hand while on the other hand Jesus is seen holding a can of drink, probably a beer and with a caption saying “If someone repents for his mistake, then heaven awaits him.”

Non Christians ought to be reminded that for the Catholics, the Sacred Heart is one of the most revered picture and has deep religious symbolism. Thus, it is sacrilegious for Makkal Ossai or for the matter anyone to reduce the picture of Sacred Heart or Jesus Christ to an object of ridicule. The manner Jesus Christ was portrayed was an act calculated to injure the feelings of Catholics in particular and the Christians in general.

Makkal Ossai the next day printed a front page apology after an uproar from the Christian community. Its General Manager S.M Periasamy in its defence, claims that a member of its newspaper graphic department had downloaded the picture from the internet to go with the daily inspirational quote section. This answer is unacceptable. In fact prudence dictates that we should be careful with information obtained from the internet and should verify the accuracy of the information obtained. Surely, the Chief Editor, Editor, General Manager or even the Proof Readers must have known that there is no such such picture of Jesus Christ ever holding a cigarette or a beer can, and, having seen how offending the offensive picture downloaded from the internet was could have rejected it.

Makkal Ossai, is an offshoot of Tamil Ossai and which had ceased operation in 1990 was a weekly newspaper for 15 years when it became a national daily. So it cannot plead inexperience or ignorance as a defence. How could the editorial team or the management not know that under s.6(1) of the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 it is an offence to publish materials that are damaging, potentially harmful to the peace, morality and safety of the public, threaten public and national interest or which go against the law.” One last question, did anyone do a final check and verification before setting the press on.

By publishing the picture it can be safely assumed that the insertion of the offensive picture to accompany the quote could not have been an oversight. Oversight is a hollow defence.

I am in full agreement with the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili when he said “Increasingly there are irresponsible people including certain sections of the media who openly engage in ridiculing other religions or making a mockery of the national anthem. These are dishonourable acts and have long terms ramifications for national unity because of the sensitivities involved. After committing such acts they take an easy route of expressing remorse and apology. This is not enough.”

I am also in agreement with Dr Ongkili who said that those responsible should be charged in order to deter others from committing the same acts. The apology can be their mitigation and it is up to the courts.

The government has been quick to react by punishing Makkal Ossai by suspending it for one month and Makkal Ossai ought to consider itself very lucky at the punishment meted out.

The incident also saw M.I.C Youth urging the government to take stern actions against Makkal Ossai hoping that it may suffer the same fate as The Sarawak Tribune. M.I.C Youth move comes at a surprise since one hardly finds M.I.C Youth protesting or demonstrating against demolishing of temples, making police reports when temples are demolished or even handing over memorandums when temples are earmarked for being demolished and here they are seeking justice for the Christians.

It is a known fact that Makkal Ossai in recent months has been strident in their criticism of Dato Seri Samy Velu and M.I.C. With the Maika A.G.M coming soon and particularly the issue of the proposed sale of Capital Insurance becoming a hot potato, Makkal Ossai would have provided an avenue for many to stoke feelings against M.I.C and Maika. Thus, for M.I.C, Makkal Ossai transgression came at the appropriate time and presented M.I.C with an opportunity. The one month suspension of Makkal Ossai now must come as a relief to some in the M.I.C.

Coming back to the issue, let this incident be a sobering reminder and a final warning to all that in multicultural and multi religious Malaysia, it is incumbent for all to refrain from causing any act which could injure the feelings and the sensitivities of another.

Norman Fernandez
25th August 2007