Saturday, April 05, 2003

After "splitting a very fine hair", Malaysia admits first SARS death

Vidicated, NST must feel no excitement over its accurate reporting.The Sunday Times has this on its front page this morning: The Health Ministry today (April 5) confirmed that the 64-year-old man from Jerantut who died at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital last Sunday suffered from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

<--- SARS mars Qing Ming moods: Fewer Hongkongers visited relatives' graves on Saturday for the Qing Ming festival, when families traditionally pay respect to their ancestors.

April 2, The NST defied a Home Ministry directive to "downplay" on SARS casualties by being the first and only newspaper to carry the initial reports on the exact SARS-related death the Health Ministry confirmed yesterday. When Health Ministry officials tried to cover up by playing to semantics and academic criteria for a SARS categorisation, it ran a stinging editorial: Pestilence management on April 3 which even other newspapers are talking about.

Which is more damaging: a killer contagion creeping through the populace, or mass panic? It may seem a classic conundrum, but it really isn’t.

The Health Ministry's attempt to keep a lid on the incidence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in this country was to avoid mass panic. It didn't work because the fear of SARS does not stem from what is known but what is unknown, and trying to eliminate fear of the unknown by keeping people in the dark is like trying to extinguish a fire by dousing it with petrol. The fear has spread faster than the disease.

...Establishing a proper perspective on SARS is therefore vital, and this is what the Government has tried to do with its punctilious classification of the illness into "suspected" (i.e. a cough & cold), and "probable" (persisting for several days) cases. But no deaths have yet been at-tributed to SARS, although two or three "probables" have died of "heart failure" or "pneumonia", which may be to split a very fine hair.

Now that the green lane is open for media reporting on SARS, The Star, the paper with the biggest circulation and readership, finally came up with an editorial 72 hours trailing behind the NST, echoing an opinion that's obvious and done:
How the SARS outbreak will go from here very much depends on how people deal with the situation. The disease will surely be contained and eliminated eventually, but how long and how many other casualties it will take with it remains to be seen.

To help minimise the damage, continued transparency and efficiency are vital. All communication channels between medical professionals, health authorities and the public must be kept wide open at all times.

The people and the mass media can and should play an active role in fighting the disease. But they can do so only if doctors and policymakers keep them up-to-date with the severity of the situation and what exactly needs to be done.

Trust, then, is key: this is not the time to keep the public or the media at arm’s length, hoping that the bad times will somehow pass quickly. People can and will play a responsible and decisive part in fighting SARS if the authorities are prepared to relate to them responsibly.

Today, Star executive editor Wong Chun Wai bettered his hattrick by filing his fourth commentary in five days, which concluded with these words:
The SARS issue should also be a lesson to those in government – when vital information about a deadly disease is kept away from the public, it will soon become a bigger problem for the government.

The value of a responsive and accountable government must be valued and Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi must be commended for insisting that the Cabinet would be open.

To show one's braveness in hindsight commentaries and opinion pieces in the now-you-see-now-you-don't Op-Ed pages - and planting subtle accolades to the-power-that-be in any opportune circumstances (I saw Chun Wai did this twice in four commetaries over five short days: here and here) - is never the same as presenting the news as news broke. Readers today would be able to discern between crass sucking-up and sincere flattery.

The Fourth Estate legacy calls for quick judgement and timely perspective-setting news presentation without having to wait for the editors' arses being covered. This is one nascent mainstream media that The Star has contributed greatly to its perpetuality.

The NST, on the other hand, may have felt vindicated on more than one count with respect to the relevance of mainstream journalism in Malaysia. That you don''t have to be the country's biggest newspaper to have the bigger voice - never mind whether they are pro-Establishment or Establishment themselves.

But there's absolutely no excitement in winning this coveted performance, is there?

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Friday, April 04, 2003

SARS: Speak, your arse is covered

Wanting to be heard. Star executive editor Wong Chun Wai, in the way he has impressed me through his years of writings, is never known for showing his journalistic vertebrate. In the last four days, he wrote three commentaries attenuating his focus on the Health Ministry's handling of the SARS scares.

Incidentally, the health minister is Chua Jui Meng, an MCA vice president not entirely aligned to Team A which controls The Star via Huaren Holdings.

<--- A prankster makes light of a weighty issue as seen by a face mask placed on a Colonel Sanders statue at one KFC outlet in Singapore

April 1: Chun Wai, when asked, offered no comment on Home Ministry's March 28 gag order on media reporting of SARS-related fatality.

April 2: He offered advice to the Health Ministry on the Do's and Don'ts on handling SARS information flow.

April 4: He upped the ente on the Health Ministry, first by praising Pak Lah:

When the Cabinet met on Wednesday, Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had a message for his ministers – the Government must be transparent about the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) situation.

He said he would not tolerate any attempt to cover up the matter and that he wanted Malaysians to know the developments of the disease.

It was his second reminder to the ministers; at a Cabinet meeting a week ago, he had told them the Government would not condone any move to sweep the SARS issue under the carpet.

Neither was the Home Minister amused with suggestions that the local press should downplay SARS updates, supposedly to protect the economy.

Abdullah has rightly pointed out to his ministers that the credibility of the Government should be their main concern. It would be pointless for the local media not to highlight this issue as the foreign media, which outsiders rely on, would continue to harp on it.

Worse still, the foreign media may even sensationalise the situation and, in the absence of reliable information, Malaysians, too, would believe these reports and, of course, hearsay and rumours.

Then he turned on the Health Minister:
On Wednesday, Abdullah also asked Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng to go on TV that night to tell Malaysians what steps had been taken to handle SARS...

There seems to be a change in attitude with the sense of urgency shown following Abdullah’s directive.

Last week, we were told that Malaysia was free from SARS with no reported deaths or suspected cases. Barely 24 hours later, we were told that the Government had received 41 “notifications” since March 18 but that there were “no cases.”

On Wednesday, the figures suddenly surged. The figures were of suspected cases (59) and quarantined (19). Yesterday, the number of suspected cases totalled 65, including six new cases.

It is such poor public relations and poor information dissemination that upset the public and the media.

That aside, I appreciate one salient point he brought up, that the Health Ministry should get the names of designated hospitals published fast. He also suggested 24-hour centres with information on SARS in various languages. The minister and his officials apparently forgot all about this, but complied soon after The Star hit the streets that day.

Today, April 5: He magnanimously borrowed fellow scribes' viewpoints - including those from his paper's direct competitor - to prop his case:
Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng has found himself in the spotlight since the outbreak of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) with mounting public pressure that he should provide more information on the situation in Malaysia.

He has faced criticism from the public and media over the handling of the SARS cases, with allegations that the Health Ministry had been not transparent or credible.

Yesterday, the New Straits Times ran a strongly worded editorial with the heading “Pestilence management”.

The newspaper wrote that “immeasurably more damage may be done to the authorities’ credibility by a policy of stonewall denial than in being open and honest about the threat and what is being done about it.”

The newspaper wrote that “in these matters, as we should have learned from the Nipah virus experience of just four years ago, a good way to avoid hysteria is to tell people the truth.”

It called for a proper perspective of SARS, saying the Government had tried to do with “its punctilious classification of the illness into ‘suspected’ (ie. cough and cold) and ‘probable’ (persisting for several days) cases.”

“But no deaths have yet been attributed to SARS, although two or three ‘probables’ have died of ‘heart failure’ or ‘pneumonia,’ which may be to split a very fine hair,” the paper editorialised.

The NST has provided wide coverage on the SARS, reporting death cases, quoting sources, to keep Malaysians informed.

The Singapore Straits Times yesterday was even harsher in its report, with its Malaysian correspondent saying Chua had been “economical” in his words on the SARS and that “when he kept mum about the SARS outbreak in the region and played down its spread here, Malaysians braced themselves for the worst.”

It (health ministry) should see the media as a partner in dealing with SARS and not as an enemy as the press has no hidden agenda.

When it carries news reports of SARS, the press is merely doing its job.

...It is more important that we are ready and that reliable and honest information continues to reach Malaysians.

Why can't Chun Wai just stand up, shoot straight and say his piece, if at all he has to say anything? Because, there's more contextual relevance to what Brendan Pereira had written in the Singapore Straits Times story than what he quoted:
But try telling that to the average Malaysian. Most believe there are more cases, and more deaths, than the government is letting on.

Why? Because for weeks several ministries have acted as if a major cover-up was under way.

Instead of holding daily briefings, officials have preferred to stay silent. And when they ventured to act, it was disastrous.

Take the overzealous senior Home Ministry official who issued a directive to newspaper editors telling them they should 'adjust' their reports and 'not focus on the death cases as it could adversely affect the confidence of the public and tourists'.

They were also told not to use Sars reports prominently.

The Straits Times understands that several annoyed editors raised the matter with Acting Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who is also the Home Minister.

It has emerged that he was peeved too - because he had made clear during several meetings with other ministers that there should be full disclosure about the Sars situation - and the newspapers were told to ignore the directive.

...Shortly afterwards, Datuk Chua and his officials faced the media and announced a new national committee on Sars and a slew of measures to contain its spread.

More important than the details was the fact that someone was speaking freely about Sars for the first time in weeks.

Verily, it takes a kiasu newspaper to juxtapose a kiasi journalist who won't shoot straight, and the People's Paper that's constipated with a timely editorial on its Ed-Op page.

Meanwhile, The Star reports today DAP national chairman Lim Kit Siang commended Pak Lah for "his decisive leadership and his directive for transparency" in all government agencies dealing with the current SARS outbreak.

Now, everybody can safely speak. Your arse is covered.

Star's Shahanaaz now reporting from Baghdad

Female war correspendent, Malaysia's first covering this US aggresssion. The Star announced reporter Shahanaaz Habib is now reporting from Baghdad.

After weeks of operating out of Amman in Jordan, Shahanaaz succesfully made the overland journey of 1,000km to reach Baghdad. She is believed to be the only Malaysian journalist inside the Iraqi capital at the moment. She will file her reports from the heart of the conflict, starting today.

Anti-biased reporting. April 2, the Government announced it is paying for 30 local journalists to travel to the Middle East and cover the war because of what it claims is biased reporting by Western media, according to the NST quoting Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar. The minister said the Government agreed to the idea after complaints of biased reporting by the BBC and America's CNN.

The government-sponsored Malaysian media team is headed by NST group editor Ahmad A. Talib. I was told his assistant political editor Shamsul Akmar Musa Kamal and The Sun chief reporter Terrence Fernandez, who stays in my Subang Jaya neighbourhood, are also part of the team.

SARS... some good news

It's almost over. A dispatch from Reuters AlertNet last night: The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday the outbreak of deadly atypical pneumonia (SARS) in Singapore was almost over, but one to two weeks were needed before it could confidently know for sure. The statement was made by Osman David Mansoor, a WHO scientist who is working closely with health authorities in Singapore.

To date, SARS has killed at least 81 people worldwide and made about 2,400 others sick since emerging in southern China in November.

While our southern corridor is showing abating threats, the north is still on close watch: WHO: Thailand still on risk list. Hong Kong is battling fresh outbreak of virus, and a manhunt of infected victims is beinh conducted.

Headlines last night, around Malaysia:

Letters to Editor:

Headlines around the world:

Now, the not so good news:

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Tamil schools: Kayveas shocked, Samy awed

Politicking education. People’s Progressive Party (PPP) president M Kayveas said the government should close Tamil primary schools to facilitate a better future for Indian Malaysian children. He told a Chinese newspaper this was essential to improve the socio-economic standing of the Indian community, most of whom are living in poverty.

MIC president S Sammy Vellu is outraged. He said Kayveas' statement could be considered as being seditious as the status of the Tamil language and the vernacular school system were provided under the constitution.

He said action could be taken against the man under the Seditious Act if a police report was to be lodged against him, but he would prefer to bring the matter up to the Cabinet and the BN leadership, rather than lodging a report or confronting the person himself.

I suggest both of you start learning to count how many Indian Malaysians around us and yet you are at each other's throat in the name of a better future. But, divided you stand! Spit betelnut juice at one another for all I care. But give us some peace.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Broga incinerator: Contract awarded... with a caveat
Ong Ka Ting has no time to meet affected residents; D-G's statement challenged

Contracts awarded. The Housing and Local Government Ministry, headed by Ong Ka Ting, has confirmed that Ebara Corporation has been awarded the contract for the controversial 1,500-tonne mega-incinerator project proposed in Broga, 40km south of Kuala Lumpur. The government has also agreed to appoint Consortium Ebara & Hartasuma Sdn Bhd to implement the project, reports Malaysiakini quoting a press release by Local Government Department director-general Mohamad Saib, dated March 31.

Mohamad said the contract carries a caveat:

  1. The consortium was only allowed to implement preliminary works such as land survey and soil investigation.

  2. No physical construction works are allowed until the approval of the EIA (environmental impact assessment) study..

  3. Both the government and the consortium will mutually terminate the project should the Department of Environment not approve the EIA study.

This was immediately rebutted by the affected residents, represented by the Broga/Semenyih No Incinerator pro tem action committee led by academic Halil Hussain.

He said Mohamad appears to be trying to cover up for his ministry by telling half-truths and continuing with the project without prior EIA approval.

He also accused (Ka Ting's) ministry of being more concerned with expediency than public health, emphasising that residents would be the ones to suffer "if proper steps are not taken during the approval process".

He warned that the government would "lose public support" if no action is taken against the ministry.

Halil also touched on other salient points:
  • His committee did not appreciate the government "lying to the public and treating the public as ignorant".

  • His committee wanted to know exactly what type of contract has been awarded, since Ebara Corporation's own press release maintains that it was engaged "after one year of tender evaluation process" by the ministry to "construct an incineration plant".

  • Mohamad (of the Ministry) had gravely misjudged the ability of the Malaysian public to read Japanese text.

  • Mohamad's statement was also confusing in its reference to land surveys as 'preliminary works' when these are usually presumed to be included as part of the whole construction contract.

  • It is not very clever (for the government) to have two tenders - one for survey and another for actual construction - as the winning bidders could be different companies, thus making the project more expensive.

  • The only exception (to having two tenders is if the 'survey' could only be done by a "specialist independent consultancy", but Ebara is not an independent surveyor.

  • A contract is awarded, there can be no turning back from implementation because the ministry would face a huge lawsuit from the contractor.

Police report. Mohamad also denied that any construction work has begun in the are earmarked, reiterating the statement made in Parliament previously that the construction of the project will only commence after the approval of the EIA study.

On March 31, the Broga/Semenyih No Incinerator pro tem action committee had lodged a police report in Kajang alleging that the ministry had breached the laws and required legal procedures. A copy of Ebara's original press release in the Japanese language and a translated version was attached to the police report.

In the report, the committee claimed the construction of a new bridge in Kampung Sungai Lalang Baru (see pictures) was specifically for the incinerator project and done prior to the approval of the EIA report.

Follow the $$$. Why did Ong Ka Ting's ministry appear to be rushing into awarding the contract and mobilise it without the EIA?

Details are not available on the source of funds, reportedly to be a RM2 billion soft loan. The Japan government has denied any involvement in this aspect of the project.

According to Malaysiakini - other media simply shy away from this issue - Yoshihiro Kakishita, the economic section first secretary at the Japanese embassy in Kuala Lumpur, confirmed the following:
"Neither the government of Japan nor Japan Bank for International Cooperation are involved in the said project whatsoever.

"Therefore, since this is strictly a matter of a private company, please refer to the parties involved in the said project."

On March 29, I blogged about the tainted records of Ebara Corporated. A March 2000 report, available on the Internet, said the Kanagawa prefectural government and the city of Fujisawa inspected the incinerator Ebara built and operated and found it dumped high levels of dioxins into the Hikiji river.

This brought up a case example of why we must look at more than just dioxin air emissions. The stark fact: Dioxons contaminated river and water source.

March 27, Broga residents sent Ong Ka Ting a second request to meet the people on April 20. The first request was derailed by the minister's busy schedule. But Ka Ting doesn't seem to give a damn, so far.

The government, including Selangor menteri besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, resorted to labelling the dissenting residents as anti-government. These Yang Berhormats need to know that the people did not oppose any proposals, including ncinerator, to solve solid waste disposal problems in the country. They proposed smaller incinerators in various places, instead of loading it wholesale at one locality.

In the case of Broga, the notion of a Big Cover-Up is emerging by the day.

I blogged this issue on March 28 and March 29. Malaysiakini's reports yesterday are here and here; or read full text at BeritaMalaysia Mailing List here.

The SunValley ran the story on its cover today: Residents disagreed with Ong Ka Ting, stopping short of calling him a liar.

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SARS on the web

Intel affected. CNet April 2, 2003, 5:25 PM PT - The SARS outbreak has caused Intel to cancel two conferences in Asia and postpone a trip to the region by CEO Craig Barrett.

Joi Ito has a blog archive of SARS.

But this website dedicated to SARS you surely shouldn't miss.

Americans are fed-up with the war

Media and web trim Gulf news. This is from The Wall Street Journal, April 2: Media outlets are starting to devote resources to other issues, such as the SARS virus and the affirmative action case in front of the Supreme Court. Web sites are seeing traffic drop off sharply from the highs at the war's start.

Cable news. Ratings are still running strong at cable news channels CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, but have declined since the war's early days. (See graphics on the left)

Prints. Separately, newspapers and news magazines are beginning to experience new dropoffs in advertising after a first quarter that looked promising. But most aren't reducing their war reporting. Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post, said traffic at his paper's Web site was down. But he said there has been no discussion of reducing the paper's widely praised war coverage.

Even the war-heavy New York Post turned its front page over to sports Tuesday, featuring New York Yankee star Derek Jeter's shoulder injury.

Web. Traffic at news-related Web sites has fallen across the board after spiking in the war's early days. U.S. visitors to MSNBC's Web site ( topped 5.6 million March 20 but fell to 3.1 million on March 31, according to comScore Media Metrix. peaked at 5.9 million on the same day as MSNBC and was down to 2.8 million Monday. Officials for both sites said their traffic is still running above prewar levels.

Blogs. Instapundit , one of the Internet's most visited Web logs, saw visits per day soar to around 170,000 at the beginning of the war, only to fall off steadily. On March 31, the site saw some 90,000 visitors. "Because there isn't a lot of news, people are actually tuning out until there is," said Glenn Reynolds, who maintains the site.


Dropping out of war

15 days of torments and finally... The US society, the young ones who have enjoyed good life and sunshine, may trigger an implosion that will take years to heal. They are starting to get fed up of a war that their generation is fighting thousands of miles away, without an inkling of how it could make their life safer and better.

Warblogger Sheila Lennon observes: "On the streets, anger fuels protest, and is met with anger. The potential for tearing our country apart again is already shaping up: "Support the war, support the troops" vs. "Support the troops -- Bring them home." She is dropping out of the war.

I'm dropping out of the war. I don't want war in my living room any more. I don't want to give it my attention. I can't stop it, can't change it, won't fight it. All I can do is live as peacefully as I can, without sucking in its virtual fumes.

I'll still maintain the war news portal to make it easier for you to inform yourself, if and when you choose to, but I don't want to blog war no more.

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to dig through and under the words of war weighing down the web and find what's good and buried there, bringing the best of it to light.


Dan Gillmor blogged it here.

Motion for constituency redelineation to be tabled this Monday

More parliament seats. Over lunch, a political source informed me a motion to amend the Federal Constitution for the creation of 25 new parliamentary seats is expected to be tabled in the parliament next Monday.

After debate and approval of MPs, the motion requires the signature and consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, before it is returned to Parliament again, where it is debated as a Bill to amend the Constitution. After the MPs endorse the Bill, it is then gazetted and enforced. The Dewan is expected to debate the Bill in the next sitting before July.

Our Constitution provides for the redelineation of electoral boundaries every eight years. The electoral boundaries are re-drawn following changes in population growth, demographic profiles and development.

A while ago, the NST flashed this breaking news (4.30pm to be exact):

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, said a motion on the matter would be tabled in Parliament next week.

The redelineated constituencies by the Election Commission would be tabled through the Prime Minister’s Department. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would table the motion for debate.

The Constitution specifies the number of parliamentary seats in the country. There are presently 194 seats. The amendment will raise the number of Members of Parliament to 219, giving additional parliamentary seats to all States except Perlis, Kedah, Terengganu and Sarawak. Breakdown of allocation of additional seats:
Johor: 6
Sabah: 5
Selangor: 5
Pahang: 3
Penang: 2
Perak: 1
Negeri Sembilan: 1
Malacca: 1
Kuala Lumpur: 1

The Election Commission has also proposed 59 new state seats. This will bring the number of State Assemblymen to 563.

Which means: more taxpayers' money would be used to support their wakil rakyat allowances.

Next questions. Would the amendment be made in time for the next general election? When will the general election be held: by the end of this year or November 2004?

But, as Oon Yeoh blogged this morning, have you registered as a voter? Yesterday, Election Commission secretary Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said more than 1.7 million eligible Malaysians have not registered as voters. Are you one of them?

Remember: You only get the government you deserve!

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Al-Jazeera stops coverage from Baghdad

Pre-show down exodus? Pan-Arab TV network Al-Jazeera has suspended reporting from Iraq after Baghdad barred two of its correspondents from reporting there. Al-Jazeera said the ministry did not give a reason for the action, which it called "sudden and unjustified".

The Washington Post said the move by the Iraqis was hard to decipher, as they had relied heavily on Al Jazeera, which has an estimated 45 million viewers, to make its case across the Arab world.

Western critics have often accused Al-Jazeera of pro-Iraqi bias in its coverage of the US-led attack on Saddam Hussein's government. The station is part-financed by the government of Qatar, which also hosts the US military's central command for the region.

This happened when the US-UK coalition armies were reported to have come to within 20-mile radius of Baghdad - a signature to crossing the 'thin red line' that may trigger an urban warfare fought on biological and chemical weapons, if the US pro-war theorists were to be believed.

UPDATE: Why al-Jazeera's man in Baghdad was kicked out? Guardian April 3 suggested reporter Tayseer Allouni may havetried to interview people without an official minder present.

War on Iraq: Day 15

War, and War on War. As the war on Iraq is showing signs of becoming protracted, I have not been following it as closely as the early days.

So far, as war has been inevitable, the best statement from Tony Blair must be this one he made at the House of Commons last night:

"Iraq in the end should not be run by the Americans, should not be run by the British, should not be run by any outside force or power."

It could well be his saving grace for supporting a war without a UN sanction.

Readers who like to partake a perspective of how the world reacts to the War, and the intellectual war on this war, check out my liist of war watch blogs on the left column of this page. Or visit Oon Yeoh's blog, Transition, which chronicles how people around the world react intellectually.

Perhaps, I was alarmed by the out-of-control outbreak of SARS which I underestimated earlier. The latest twist to this is of course the government's attempts to blackout information. The NST, which reported the first suspected SARS death yesterday, is now saying the man who died on Sunday at the KL Hospital had symptoms of SARS.

The saga of Saving Private Jessica Lynch (picture above) catches my eyes. So do those of the tabloids and spin-doctors.

NST today has this cover story on Life & Times section: Do you believe what you see? It's about both sides spinning this war to win over public opinion.

Mimos loses semicon archietect

Azman & Azzman I was informed Azman Baharum, the designer of MAP 100 PESONA™ P16 16 Bit RISC Microprocessor, has resigned from MIMOS Semiconductor (MySem) yesterday. This is the latest development after the company has taken in a new CEO sources claimed to have been given a RM50,000 monthly salary.

According to the official website, MySem was formed in 1989 as part of MIMOS Berhad., Malaysia's premier research and development institution. The charter of MIMOS Semiconductor was to establish an entirely novel business entity in the existing semiconductor industry with the view of contributing towards Malaysia's Vision 2020. MIMOS claimed that MySem has become the foremost provider of semiconductor products and services in Malaysia and worldwide, and that its state-of-the art wafer fabrication facility, IC design facility, Failure Analysis facility and Wafer Testing facility is able to provide a comprehensive solution to customers.

Achievement so far. Last July, MIMOS CEO and MySem board member Tengku Dr Mohd Azzman Shariffadeen claimed that MySem has acquired CMOS and BiCMOS technologies and it is the only such initiative in the country offering the "entire portfolio of skill sets and their supporting technical infrastructure to address chip design and fabrication."

Azzman also claimed that MySem started with the 1.0 micron CMOS design, and has now completed the R&D for Fab 1, which was used to transfer 0.5 micron CMOS/BiCMOS technology in 2001. MySem has since moved on to Fab 2, for which construction started in 2000 and now has reached the qualification stage. He claimed that this fab is capable of processing 0.35 micron although it will first run the 0.5 micron process that has been transferred through Fab 1. Azzman said:

What is significant is that the 0.35 micron process under development is entirely our own, developed by skilled engineers trained through two successive transfers of 1.0 and 0.5 micron technology. Valuable intellectual assets have been generated through this programme which is being made available to the electronics industry.

The current chairman of MySem is certified public accountant (CPA) Abdul Rahim Abdul Hamid, who is also deputy executive chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers Malaysia.

Till now, Malaysian taxpayers, who helped fund MIMOS' technology sojourn one way or another, has not been informed of MySem's marketshare and ROI for its businesses since its inception 13 years ago.

Mimos website only carries annual reports for 2000 and 2001, the 2002 annual report has not been published. The 2001 annual report is available here, and same year financial report is here.

Question: Will Azman 's exit disrupt MySem's plan to integrate itself onto the global production networks (GPN) as Azzman envisioned? Read my earlier blog on cleaning up MIMOS.

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SARS bug identity confirmed

Breakthrough. news service reports: Scientists have satisfied key tests that confirm that the root cause of SARS is a new type of coronavirus.

The identification will speed up the testing of victims and their contacts to see how the disease spreads, and how it might be contained.

Straits Times Singapore statistics, updated April 2, 6.00 am (Malaysia time) -->

Coming clean. China's wall of silence on the lethal SARS started to break open yesterday when WHO epidemiologists and health officials are allowed access into southern Guangdong province.

Malaysia says no SARS. Reuters AlertNet: Health Ministry Director-General Mohamed Taha Arif told a news conference today that the post-mortem of a man who died in a Kuala Lumpur hospital on Sunday would probably not be ready for another two weeks, but he added that it was unlikely he had contracted SARS.


Malaysian SARS operations room:
03-2694-6394 / 03-2693-8053
(7.30am and 6pm daily)

Singapore Ministry of Health SARS:
Hotline: 1-800-2254122

Hong Kong DOH Atypical Pneumonia website:

WHO website on SARS:

CDC website on SARS:

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Public ill-informed because The Star/NST misinformed... or was it because Health D-G disinformed us all?

Media distortion? This could have been the perfect April Fool's headline: Malaysia was still SARS-free one day after the virus claimed the first death.

There's a lot of SARS confusion on the ground, judging from the emails, SMS and phonecalls I received from supposedlly well-informed knowledge-workers that I know of. This stems from conflicting reports among mainstream media.

New Straits Times defies the Home Ministry directive to gag SARS fatality figures and reported the first suspected death case in Malaysia today. The victim, a visitor aged in his fifties who recently returned from China, was admitted to Tawakal Hospital on Friday before being transferred to the KL Hosiptal on Saturday. He was reported to have died on Sunday morning.

Reuters quoted this in its international dispatch this morning through its UK hub and Reuters AlertNet. It was later picked up by BBC World (ASTRO Channel 93).

On Tuesday, The Star reported on a press conference given Monday by the Health Ministry Director General Dr Mohamad Taha Arif, who based his facts on official statistics updated by the end of Sunday - the day the first suspected SARS victim died. Taha categorically said on Monday: Malaysia is SARS-free.

Today, The Star executive editor Wong Chun Wai aped his editorial advisor VK Chin and reprised a commentary dishing advice to the Health Ministry on the Do's and Don'ts on handling SARS information flow.

Meanwhile, deputy health minister denied NST's report on the suspected SARS death. Health minister Chua Jui Meng, while denying any SARS death as late as this morning before afternoon tabloid The Malay Mail went to press, warned that action could be taken against the rumour-mongers.

My earlier blog on SMS speculation on Malaysia's first SARS death, which travelled digitally to Melbourne and back, has come to pass. People listen to rumours, and I do hope, this time around, rumours would not turn out to be true.

People are still wary of Chua's track record in his handling of the nipah virus crisis. What the country could do for now is to wait out the findings of the post-mortem on the death case that The NST reported today.

Rumours breed rumours

Denial Syndrome takes hold. Sports portal carries a Reuters report from Vienna: McLaren reserve driver Alexander Wurz was admitted to hospital for suspected SARS pneumonia virus last week, after falling ill upon returning to his Monaco home from the Malaysian Grand Prix. He spent 24 hours in quarantine and underwent tests. He is now cleared.

Malaysia has reported its first suspected cases of SARS, one in Johor Baru, and seven others in and around the capital Kuala Lumpur. Bernama quoted the health ministry director general Mohamad Taha Arif as saying yesterday that eight people with suspected SARS had been admitted to hospital for tests.

Reactive measures. Health Minister Chua Jui Meng urged the tens of thousands of Malaysians working in Singapore to take their annual leave in an effort to combat the spread of the disease. Some 50,000 people from Johor, Singapore's closest neighbour, commute daily to the republic for work, including about 4,000 students who are studying there.

The Malaysian government yesterday urged its citizens to postpone nonessential travel to countries affected SARS that has killed 62 people worldwide. Official handouts listed Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam as places that have reported SARS cases.

Deadlier carrier. Last night, a Malaysian student studying in Melbourne icq-ed me she received SMS messages, reporting a SARS fatality at the Tawakkal hospital, Setapak.

If the official agencies continue to clog information flow, SMS would become an even more deadly carrier for the virus, economically. KLIA arrivals have fallen 3% this week compared with last week after SARS emerged in the region.

People must know, there's big difference between kneejerk responses and pre-emptive measures.

Stay informed. Click here for CDC's tips on Interim Guidance on Infection Control Precautions for Patients with Suspected Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Close Contacts in Households.

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Home Ministry orders press not to report SARS deaths

It's an order! The home ministry has officially directed all major English-language newspapers to "adjust" their reports on SARS by leaving out any mention of fatalities.

It issued a directive, dated March 28, asking top editors from the New Straits Times, New Sunday Times, Malay Mail, Sunday Mail, the Star, Sunday Star and the Sun. to cooperate.

The two-page directive was signed on behalf of the ministry's secretary-general Aseh Che Mat by Abdul Rahim Mohd Radzi of the publications control unit under the ministry. The directive, according to Malaysiakini, reads like this:

"As you already know, SARS cases have received wide coverage in mainstream newspapers of different languages, including specific cases of deaths.

"The government is concerned that such comprehensive and widely-publicised reports will lead to undesirable implications, including striking fear among the people and jeopardising tourist arrivals.

"Therefore, the ministry seeks the cooperation of editors to adjust the reports (menyesuaikan laporan) on the SARS, by not focusing on death cases (as it) could adversely affect the confidence of the public and tourists."

Malaysiakini said the directive was faxed last Friday to the newspapers even before the Health Ministry called a press conference to declare that Malaysia was SARS-free. The ministry director-general Dr Mohamad Taha Arif said all the suspected cases have so far tested negative.

What now, Editors? Malaysiakini said only two of the seven editors named in the ministry's letter could be reached for comments today.

Sunday Mail editor Aishah Ali: "It is better to tell the truth as it is. Since it is a ministry directive, I will use my discretion to weigh the information against the stated 'sensitivities', but I feel the truth must be told."

The Star executive editor Wong Chun Wai: No comment.

Read my earlier blogs here and here.

SARS gets skimpy mention in Malay media

Information Selective. Both print and online versions of Utusan Malaysia today have skimpy coverage on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) plaguing the whole world today. Berita Harian ran a sole 6th column story on Page 2, relating to Singapore's fourth fatality who succumbed to the virus after returning from Sarawak.

The Star ran five SARS-related stories on pages 8 and 10, plus a VK Chin commentary, while the New Straits Times devoted three stories on Page 7, an AP story on Page 10 leader, one in business section, and three more on World News.

However, story of the day is deservingly this, carried by the "People's Paper" with byline for its three reporters:

Malaysia is free from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) with no reported deaths or suspected cases, said Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Mohamad Taha Arif.

“There have been no SARS cases, no suspected SARS cases or deaths caused by SARS.

In contrast, the NST (All The News That Matters) - said a woman suspected of being infected with SARS was ordered by Johor health director Dr Prathapa Senan to be admitted to the Sultanah Aminah Hospital, Johor Baru yesterday. The news was confirmed by the hospital's director, Dr V. Sadandan.

The NST said doctors wanted the ministry of health to provide as much information as possible on the situation to the public. The paper added:
They claimed health officials had been told to stop divulging information to the Press.

If what the Establishment paper said true, it certainly sounds like there was a gag order. If yes, who ordered it?

Yesterday, Sin Chew Daily ran an editorial stating that one possible approach to reduce confusion among the public about the disease was for the Government to be transparent.

Even the usual apologist in VK Chin has this to say:
The Health Ministry must be vigilant to safeguard Malaysians from the dreaded atypical pneumonia which has affected so many countries in the region and beyond.

It is hoped that the last round of the Nipah epidemic should be a lesson to the authorities dealing with such possible outbreaks in future.

It will be interesting to see if The Star, owned by MCA's investment arm Huaren, will set aside partisan politics and, for the sake of the government, give its minister a fair reporting on an issue of acute public interest.

UPDATE: The NST ran this breaking news April 1, 6.45pm: State Health directors are now barred from releasing any information on SARS to the media. Such statements can only be made by Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng, Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Mohamad Taha Arif or other health officials assigned by them.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Peter Arnett joins Daily Mirror, UK

Shine on, Peter! Washington Post quoted a Reuters story: Britain's Daily Mirror said on Tuesday it had hired 68-year old veteran US reporter Peter Arnett, sacked by American TV network NBC after he told Iraqi television the U.S, war plan against Saddam Hussein had failed.

"I report the truth of what is happening in Baghdad and will not apologize for it," he told the tabloid newspaper, one of the most prominent opponents of Britain's involvement in the war.

"I am still in shock and awe at being fired," New Zealand-born Arnett -- who won a Pulitzer prize for his Vietnam War coverage -- wrote under the banner headline "This war's NOT working."

Daily Mirror, calling Arnett a legend among war reporters, said this in its April 1 editorial:
Honesty is not acceptable in the Bush era if it conflicts with the White House view.

The Daily Mirror is proud to have hired Peter Arnett. And proud that we have a team dedicated to telling the truth about what is happening in Iraq.

Dinesh said Arnett's sacking is a "good message from the alleged protectors of free speech."

SARS: What's happening?

This scares me. Two contrasting news items got me worried. Item one is from New Straits Times, datelined Kuala Lumpur March 30:

A woman, quarantined and awaiting results to ascertain if she was infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), died at Kuala Lumpur Hospital today.

The patient's brother, who wished to be identified only as Chong, said doctors informed him that his sister had suffered heart failure.

"The doctor informed me that she did not die of SARS," the brother said, adding that his sister had not travelled abroad recently.

The 45-year-old's identity is being withheld.

The patient was admitted to KLH three days ago after she suffered a severe cough and breathing difficulties — two symptoms associated with SARS. The patient was admitted to the quarantine ward on the hospital's fifth floor where she died at 2.30pm.

This brings to three the number of patients under quarantine — two others at private hospitals — for suspected SARS.

Health authorities declined to confirm whether SARS cases had been reported here, but did disclose that the World Health Organisation was co-operating with the Malaysian Government.

Another news piece is from Straits Times Singapore, dateline Singapore March 31, 9.19 pm:
One more person in Singapore died on Monday of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

A statement from the Health Ministry said on Monday that the woman travelled to Sarawak with her family on March 15 and had developed a fever after returning on March 18.

Is there a faintest correlation between the two incidents? Are we purposefully down-playing the scares, the way China and Canada did?

Straits Times Singapore says SARS has a domino effect on public wariness. The Nation Bangkok says SARS is worse than war.

It's heartening to note, at least for the time being, that the regional outbreak of SARS has not affected Malaysia severely, where 29 suspected cases have been recorded to date.

Liz of Subang Jaya pointed me to this article by Health News UK: World Health Organization (WHO) officer Dr Carlo Urbani, the international expert on communicable disease who first identified the outbreak of SARS, has become a victim of the disease. He died from the infection in Thailand on Saturday, March 29.

Malaysiakini reported yesterday that World Health Organisation (WHO) Joel van Deburge, the representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, confirmed that the suspected cases have turned out to be negative. The suspected cases in Malaysia, van Deburge said, involved a pneumonia-like disease with routine symptoms such as cough, fever and sore throat.

A separate AFP report quoted WHO SARS co-ordinator Hitoshi Oshitani as telling a press conference in Manila this afternoon that international experts expect to identify the virus "within a few days, at most, a few weeks".

I did not pay much attention to SARS outbreak until this became a hot discussion topic among the residents of Subang Jaya, where I live. One resident, KW Chang, pointed to a resource page - - maintained voluntarily by Dr.Vadivale, a Malaysian.

Having learnt the lessons from previous outbreaks of nipah virus and dengue fever, I am watching with bated breath on how the local health authorities will handle the information flow, and how local media will report it.

For live update on SARS, Google News is a good resource, click here. Current headlines are grim and gloomy: Death toll from SARS continues to rise (USA Today), SARS seen threatening Asian economies (The Globe and Mail, Canada).

NST MD resigns; NexNews gets FIC approval

Media movements. reports: The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Bhd (NSTP) announced yesterday Faiz Ishak has resigned as managing director, director and audit committee member with effect from the same day. No reason was given for the resignation.

Faiz became an NSTP staffer on June 1, 1982 and was appointed managing director on July 26, 1999.

New lease of life. Nexnews Bhd announced yesterday it has received the Foreign Investment Committee (FIC)'s approval for its proposed acquisition of Sun Media Corporation Sdn Bhd and The Edge Communications Sdn Bhd. The FIC approval was dated March 26.

With this, The Sun daily and The Edge weekly will come under one stable.

Does this mean Tong Kooi Ong has been forgiven and accepted by the Establishment? Will Nexnews become a meaningful competitor to the Star/NSTP duopoly in Malaysian English press?

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Peter Arnett crucified for talking to Iraqi TV

You are fired. In this war on Iraq, Peter Arnett will no longer be reporting for NBC News and MSNBC. He has been fired by the American television network NBC on Monday (US Eastern Time) for telling the state-run Iraqi television that the U.S. war plan against Saddam Hussein had failed, and that reports from Baghdad about civilian casualties had helped antiwar protesters undermine the Bush administration’s strategy.

Guardian says Arnett has been accused of "kowtowing to the enemy" by a US Republican politician Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has branded his interview on Iraqi television as "nauseating".

Arnett's interview was broadcast by Iraq’s satellite television station at least twice on Sunday afternoon and monitored by The AP in Egypt. CNN and Fox News Channel showed excerpts of it last night.

In the interview, Arnett said his Iraqi friends had told him that there was a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain were doing.

"The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan.

“Clearly, the American war plans misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces,”

Arnett said it was clear that there was growing opposition to the war within the United States and a growing challenge to President Bush.

“Our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States,” he said. “It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.”

Washington Post says that view echoed similar comments in many U.S. media after the rapid advance of U.S. forces through southern Iraq slowed south of Baghdad amid disruptive attacks on its long supply lines persistent resistance, particularly in the towns. The paper says Arnett's remarks were received with anger by the administration in Washington. One White House source said they were based on "a position of complete ignorance."

Initially, according to the New York Times quoting the AP, NBC and National Geographic (for which Arnett also worked) defended Arnett on Sunday, saying he gave the interview, which he saw as analysis, "out of professional courtesy." But the next day, after speaking with the president of NBC News, Neal Shapiro, the network said it could no longer work with Arnett. It said in a statement:
"It was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview with state-controlled Iraqi TV, especially at a time of war and it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions.

"His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more.

I was stupid. Arnett, who won a Pulitzer Prize reporting in Vietnam for The Associated Press, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Monday to apologize for his statements. According to the Washington Post:
"But clearly by giving that interview I created a firestorm in the United States and for that I am truly sorry," added Arnett, widely known for his dramatic live reports during the bombing of Baghdad on the opening days of the 1991 Gulf War.

"My stupid misjudgment was to spend fifteen minutes in an impromptu interview with Iraqi television," he said.

In 1998, Arnett was fired from CNN after the Pentagon pressured the news channel over a documentary in which Arnett alleged that U.S. commandos had used sarin gas on American troops who had defected to Laos during the Vietnam war. He disavowed the story after his producers were also fired.

Arnett, while apologetic on NBC, said he has granted many interviews in the past and that his remarks were not "out of line with what experts think."

"Maybe some people think I'm insane, but I'm not anti-military," he added. "This is the biggest story of my life."

Tim Goodman of San Francisco Chronicle says Arnett has rattled the hornets' nest. He says Arnett's comments are sure to touch off a debate about journalists covering the war, magnifying issues of bias being tossed about on both sides: Was it the medium or the message? Read his commentary here.

Future plans. Asked what the future held for him, Arnett said: "There's a small island, inhabited in the South Pacific that I will try to swim to."

"I'll leave, I'm embarrassed," he said.

Yen Yen - Juni Ewe nexus

Same League. My blog Saturday If you can't convince, confuse drew attention. A reader to this blog, callsigned Chek831, pointed to a common project helmed by two powerful women, Dr Ng Yen Yen and Juni Ewe: World Chinese Women’s Association (WCWA) 2nd International Symposium on “Arts, Culture and Peace: The Role of Women.”

Yen Yen is the deputy minister for Culture, Arts and Tourism, which manages multi-million ringgit promotions for in-bound tourism under the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board. Juni is the managing director of PR/communications company, Impact Challenger.

The three-day seminar will be held from June 27 to June 29 at Genting Highlands. It will be opened by Acting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Yen Yen is the organising chairperson.

There is a vague tie between the event and the upholding of good values system as Yen Yen said: "Mothers play a very important role in teaching conflict resolution and to establish a value system. So, women play a vital role in promoting peace, which starts within yourself.”

The picture above shows (from left): WCWA honorary treasurer Juni Ewe, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board convention and incentive division director Poon Siew Lean, WCWA president Datuk Jennifer Low, Dr Ng, WCWA vice-president Rosalind Lee and Yayasan Sin Chew manager Masdiana Ooi with the symposium brochures.

The blog topic was about how public relations (PR) consultant Juni Ewe argued her case to defend Yen Yen's PR (permanent resident) controversy. Yen Yen was hit the headlines for the wromg reason. She has knowingly sworn her allegiance and loyalty to the king and the country upon her appointment by the Agong as a Malaysian senator while holding an effective Australian PR. Juni had fingering-pointed the press for exposing this secret.

By now, Yen Yen must be grateful and indebted for what Juni did to help her spin the controversy around. The good deeds should be repaid in some ways, not necessarily in monetary term.

The crime allegedly committed by the Press? Character assasination. Click here for details.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Money politics, local version

What's wrong? Last Sunday, I blogged about local media getting into the line of fires of partisan disputes within the MCA. NST's Shamsul Akmar took a salvo at Ling Liong Sik in his Sunday commentary yesterday, by popping his senior colleague to front his views:

"It is quite sad to see Dr Ling blaming our newspaper for things which went wrong in the MCA," said a senior New Straits Times editor who used to cover Dr Ling in his early years as the party president... What she said would be vouched for by most political writers and component partners in the Barisan Nasional.

Shamsul provides this observation, which I have been hearing along the political corridors, but this time from a scribe from the Establishment:
While Dr Ling has his hands full dealing with dissenting leaders from within, he decided to accuse the NST of "naked, blatant distortion" in a report on money politics infiltrating the MCA which he purportedly made in Johor Baru on March 2.

His bone of contention was that he never said that money politics had reached the level of millions of ringgit as reported by the NST. His clarification was carried by the NST the next day.

However, on March 26, again at a Press conference, Dr Ling decided to make the charge of "naked, blatant distortion" on the NST, and insisted that all the other newspapers got it right.

An NST reporter, who covers the MCA regularly, pointed out that it was unfair of Dr Ling to make such accusations when he nor his aides made any effort to clarify the Johor Baru story immediately after it was published on March 3.

Furthermore, he pointed out, it was not only the NST which carried the report. Two other newspapers, The Sun (using a Bernama report) and Utusan Malaysia carried reports along similar lines.

Said a colleague: "If Dr Ling or his aides want to believe there is an agenda in the NST, he should probably be more concerned about the Bernama report as it is a news agency owned by the Government which Dr Ling is very much a part of."

That being the case, it is quite surprising that Dr Ling had continued with his rampage against the NST which is not part of the Huaren stable (which owns The Dtar, Nanyang Siang Pau, The China Press and a radio station). At the rate things are going, Dr Ling should be more concerned about what is going on within the MCA which is now threatening to drag the BN down together.

I believe Dollah Kok Lanas approved Shamsul's copy before it went to print with this intro:
The internal crisis in MCA has not dissipated. If anything, new issues keep cropping up to make matters worse. Party president Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik looks trapped in a political quagmire and seems to be grabbing just about anything to remain afloat.

I am also mindful that Steven Gan and R. Nadeswaran have no love lost about how their reporters, in the course of discharging their professional duties, have been treated by Ling. (I refrain from using the word "mistreated" in this case.)

Money politics, international versions

Quid pro quo does come. Finally, the US has agreed to give Turkey US$30 billion (RM114 billion) in cash and loans.

Upon hearing this, Jacques Chirac said France would, for US$30 billion, also give full support to the US in its attack on Iraq. "We have no quarrels with Iraq but these days US$30 billion is a lot of money," he said.

Saddam Hussein was quick to jump in: "For US$30 billion, I will personally attack Iraq myself."

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