Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Truths of the matter

Truth or the lack of it came under scrutiny last weekend, leading up to the King's speech to Parliament in which falsehoods on the Internet became the subject of a royal rebuke.

Before monarchists rise in loyal support of their liege, they would do well to remember that the royal address in a constitutional monarchy is crafted by the government in power, and that it is a government policy statement.

In other words, those are not His Majesty's own thoughts: they are merely the thoughts of the ruling government. In plainer terms, the thoughts of Barisan Nasional policy craftsmen.

Truth be told, that fact remains an inconvenient truth.

And truth also be told, it is a measure of how far we have regressed in political development, after 52 years of a parliamentary system of governance in a constitutional monarchy, that certain truths about our system have become an inconvenience.

Such was the essence of the curious case of the Inspector-General of Police who was reported to have resigned, or did not resign, but who, in any case, is definitely leaving.

Would it be an inconvenient truth also to state that the Inspector-General of Police has, in effect, been fired? For it is certainly true that it could be viewed that way.

We are now left with a conundrum.

Did the China Press knowingly report a falsehood?

Did they do so maliciously or in good faith?

Did they do so at the behest of criminal syndicates, as the government has implied, of an "underground" seeking the removal of a staunch defender of justice and the rule of law?

Or did they accept in good faith information from a source whom they trusted, seeking to carry out their journalistic duties in the honest belief that it was in the public interest for news of such an important and impending departure to be revealed?

After all, Musa Hassan is no ordinary person. He is, in fact, the nation's top law enforcer even if Internet accounts show that many believe him to be merely the enforcer for the ruling party. And the acquittal of Ramli Yusoff, a senior officer who could well have occupied that top post at Bukit Aman but believes that he was "fixed", did give rise to speculation on the possible consequences.

One of which was, of course, the departure of Musa Hassan.

And that was the essence of the China Press report — that Musa Hassan's time was up. They may have got the facts wrong, if government accounts are to be believed, in announcing that his departure would take place within days.

But they published the truth as they saw it: that Musa Hassan was leaving.

Did the China Press knowingly publish information they knew to be untrue? Or merely that the information they relied on, as good as unverifiable in requiring the acquiescence of the prime minister or the home minister, was in part erroneous?

Newspapers often contain errors. A columnist on Tuesday made public an error he had published: he had blamed the wrong company in a previous column. That does not make him guilty of publishing "false news". But it could be interpreted that way, if officialdom chose to do so, if officialdom were in a punitive frame of mind. Or if officialdom sought a scapegoat.

The China Press got the essence of the matter correct, that the unloved Inspector-General of Police was going — a fact confirmed by the Home Minister himself, a day after ordering punitive action against the paper under a despised law.

Such a law, allowing an official to punish a newspaper for making an error while essentially publishing the truth, cannot be allowed to stand. It seeks not to uphold the truth, but merely some official's version of what he wishes to be considered the truth.

In truth, that law must go — as surely as the fact that the Inspector-General is about to go.

courtesy of FreeMalaysiaToday

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