‘Still-the-same’ Saifuddin Abdullah vows to keep media free, uphold freedom

Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah speaks to reporters during a press conference at the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia in Putrajaya March 12, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah speaks to reporters during a press conference at the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia in Putrajaya March 12, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

PUTRAJAYA, March 12 — Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah vowed today to uphold media freedom and democratic principles, amid concerns that the new government would clamp down on dissent.

The Umno-turned-PKR-turned-Bersatu leader asserted that he was “still the same Saifuddin” who respects the right to criticism, even as he has defected to a new administration that detractors termed a “backdoor” government.

“I am still the same Saifuddin that upholds freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” he told reporters in his debut press conference as communication minister.

The self-styled progressive Indera Mahkota MP has come under heavy fire for defecting to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, the party accused of jointly conspiring to block PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s succession as prime minister.

The former PKR leader was among 11 MPs that deserted the party along with Bersatu, a move that effectively ended Pakatan Harapan (PH) rule and installed Perikatan Nasional (PN) as the new ruling bloc.

To many of his supporters, his decision to join Bersatu is seen as an indelible stain on his progressive image, since the all-Malay party is now allies with scandal-tainted Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN).

Umno and BN were also seen as autocratic when in power and were responsible for some of the laws rights groups claim curb civil liberties.

But in today’s press conference, Saifuddin pledged to protect the public’s constitutional right to criticise those in power.

Saifuddin said pro-freedom policies under PH will continue under his watch, but with better public engagement through a more “participatory” process.

“I would take a participatory approach that would involve state, business and civil societies,” he said.

As part of efforts to increase public participation in policy-making, Saifuddin said a “conference council” will be formed to communicate the new government’s policies and measures.

He described the move as “change in continuity”, a message that underlines his intention to continue with policies laid out by the government he helped deposed.

The Bersatu leader, formerly the foreign minister, also vowed that his government will uphold transparency and push for the Freedom of Information Act.

Former de facto law minister in the Datuk Liew Vui Keong had reportedly said in 2018 that the PH government was studying the proposed FIA, in line with its commitment to review the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the Witness Protection Act 2009.

Saifuddin also said the PN administration will continue with the planned tabling of the Anti-Fake News Bill will continue, even as rights groups have voiced concern that the controversial Bill is a pretext for the government to target its critics.

“I will protect media freedom but without compromising on fake news,” he said.

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