Malaysian paper apologizes over police nude video story
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan. 6 Kyodo
A local Chinese-language newspaper on Friday apologized for a story about a naked woman that stirred up a diplomatic storm with China.
In the front page of the China Press, the daily expressed its ”deepest apology” for wrongly identifying the woman in a video secretly shot at a police station as being a Chinese national.
The woman, who was shown being forced to perform squats in the nude, turned out to be a local ethnic Malay.
Editor-in-chief Chong Choong Nam and executive editor-in-chief Ng Siew Peng resigned ”to take full responsibility for the glaring mistake in the report,” the newspaper said.
China Press was the first newspaper to report on the video, which surfaced at around the same time of several complaints by Chinese women of being harassed by Malaysian police over visa violations. They too related about being forced to strip naked and do squats while in detention.
Other newspapers also followed with the same line of reporting and it has caused a diplomatic uproar, forcing Malaysia, which has been worried about dwindling tourism numbers from China, to apologize to Beijing over the alleged mistreatment of its citizens.
An independent inquiry established soon after to probe the case confirmed that the woman was an ethnic Malay arrested for a drug-related offence.
The government reacted swiftly, sending two show-cause letters to China Press, the second largest Chinese language newspaper in the country. It even threatened to revoke its permit to publish its lucrative evening edition.
The move, however, reignited criticism from rights groups and opposition parties about political intervention in the media.
The New Straits Times, an English daily closely linked to the leadership, warned that the move is meant as a signal that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is ”prepared to wield the big stick as he moves into his third year in office.”
Abdullah is also the internal security minister, whose office hands out publishing licenses that must be renewed annually. This, critics note, ensures that the mainstream media toe the government line.
Local human rights body Aliran said in a statement, ”The outlook for media freedom does not look bright. What is disturbing about this episode is that the state has deliberately intervened in a journalistic matter that could have been handled by the management of the newspaper concerned.”
Opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok, who was instrumental in bringing the video to the attention of the media and the public, expressed sadness that the main issue of police abuse has been sidelined.
”Ever since the commission hearing was told the woman in the clip was a Malay and not a Chinese national, the focus on the issue was diverted from questioning police abuse of detainees in lock-up. From then on, eyes were on whether the media or I made any mistake,” she said.
China Press is owned by Nanyang Press Holdings Group, which is linked to the Malaysian Chinese Association, the second biggest party in the ruling National Front coalition.
Some 25 percent of Malaysia’s 25 million population are ethnic Chinese.
The independent commission, chaired by a former chief judge, is expected to submit its findings from the inquiry to the government next week. The commission has been tasked to investigate, among others, the propriety of conducting strip search, which critics claimed were done indiscriminately.
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