Saturday, May 10, 2003

The 8-million ringgit question for Ahmad A. Talib: Part III
JMTM: From pooling to stealing, plagiarising and spiking news

A question of basic ethics. The integrity of journalism in Malaysia was dealt a big blow when New Straits Times Group Editor Ahmad A. Talib was JMTM chef de mission at his base camp hosted at an Amman hotel.

It's less about an Ahmad A. Talib who never stepped foot into Iraq to lead a mission to cover the war.

It's more about the shame of denying journalists their honour of having risked their lives to bring out the news from war zone.

These journalists, their stories just got stolen!

Soon after Saddam regime was ousted on April 10, the first team of JMTM journalists, comprising pressmen from theSun and Berita Harian, made the first attempt to get into Iraq. But it was cut short because of lawlessness after the fall of Baghdad. Later, they joined a convoy of journalists from around the globe and managed to enter Iraq.

theSun chief reporter Terence Fernandez was the first to file a story from the war zone. This was carried on Page 6 of theSun, April 12 under the headline: Close call for press convoy. He was given a pix byline.

This is his opening paragraph:

FEAR - an overwhelming dose of it - swept through the group of journalists who had crossed the Karamah Border from Jordan into Baghdad.

It was a story about how our pressmen cheated lives under AK47 gunfires as they were entering Iraq. Please note the first-person account in the despatch: Terence said while he was writing the story "on the hood of our sports utility vehicle, several trucks headed towards the checkpoint."

Terence also mentioned about how theSun chief photographer Raj Kumar told staff sergeant James Mattwich of US Third Batallion of his relief seeing an American at the checkpoint.

The shocking thing is, the other two English newspapers also carried the same story but robbing Terence the credit that he deserved

"All The News That Matters". The same day, NST carried the same story on Page 2, headlined: Unexpected encounter on the road to Baghdad. But a pix byline was instead given to its reporter Shamsul Akmar "reporting from Iraq".

Shamsul Akmar actually entered Iraq with a second team, in different convoy, many many hours later.

It also changed the opening paragraph into this:
Fear. An overwhelming feeling of fear swept the group of journalists who crossed the Karamah border from Jordan into Baghdad.

While the body of the story, narrated in Terence's hallmark of plain English, remained largely intact, the portion where Terence said he was writing on the hood was changed to "while writing this on the hood of a SUV, several trucks were headed towards the checkpoint."

Silenced was the first-person account.

The NST version also mentioned this:
"I never thought I'd be so glad to see an American," chief photographer RajKumar told staff sergeant James Mattwick.

NST's chief sub-ed should know better than anyone else that its staff photographer is Anuar Hashim, who was also pix-bylined underneath Shamsul Akmar's.

"The People's Paper". The Star carried the story the same day, headlined: Fear grips Malaysian journalists entering Iraq. But it was re-written by completely taking out the first-person account, with the opening paragraph running like this:
An overwhelming feeling of fear swept the group of journalists who had crossed the Kamarah border from Jordan into Iraq on Thursday.

Again, Terence was denied the byline that he deserved.

You may click on the screenshot (below) to view The Star's treatment of Terence's story in higher resolution.

Low Resolution: 125K | High Resolution: 383K

Baffled. I read all three English newspapers on April 12 as it was a Saturday, I was baffled why theSun and The NST carried identical reports, but credited to two different reporters.

As a consummate media-watcher, I am rather familiar with Terence's writing style, and I am sure Shamsul Akmar would definitely write differently. They are scribes from different breeds.

To satisfy my curiosity, I made phonecalls to people-in-the-know just to verify, and in return, I myself received several phonecalls from fellow news junkies, asking the same question. We were all astounded.

I even checked with senior journalists from various English newspapers and alerted them on this blatancy.

While I understand it was agreed that all stories of the JMTM would be pooled, I told them their newspapers have, in the past, been so easy with giving bylines to syndicated and wire stories from New York Times to The Economist. Why not to our own?

In fact, The NST has lifting rights to The Economist stories, and I remember it has been lifting from the magazine till 2001, with bylines.

A senior editor advised me to keep my ears open, and that if I could talk to some JMTM journalists, there would be many horrifying stories to be heard.

Plagiarising and spiking. It was evident that, after news broke on three Malaysian reporters having been abducted on April 12, the remaining 31 journalists - mostly executive level pressmen - chose to linger on in Amman, and leveraged on news pooling to the maximum in order to fulfil their daily despatch requirement.

I have heard of JMTM leaders plagiarising stories filed by fellow reporters who covered from the war zone.

Even when they finally made it into Baghdad, after initial ruckus has subsided, most of the stories were nothing more than sob-tales from hospitals.

We didn't get to read human-interest stories about those who suffered under Saddam's regime. Were such stories taboo and were they spiked by JMTM leaders?

I noticed Shahanaaz Habib, who was the first Malaysian journalist to enter Baghdad before the war started, and funded entirely by The Star, was later co-opted in JMTM. Her stories boosted news leads that made other fat-cats look less embarrassed.

But it is also her being co-opted into JMTM that made her a victim of lousy journalism. I was made to understand that her stories on the Easter celebrations in Iraq were "spiked" by JMTM people.

Last week, I emailed The Star to pose probing questions about this. It has yet to reply.

Meanwhile, a minister annnounced a permanent media team would soon be set up to cover international issues, especially those involving local volunteers like Mercy Malaysia and Peace Malaysia.

What shall we do with lousy journalism? First, get a tight grasp of the background information about JMTM. You may like to start by reading my earlier blogs on JMTM leadership, Part I and Part II.

I had several questions for JMTM chef de mission Ahmad A. Talib and I had asked him to show us the book how he helped spend 8 million ringgit of taxpayers' money in one month - under his leadership - to purportedly cover the war in Iraq.

As the leader of JMTM in Amman, he must be made accountable on why the rakyat must cough out RM8 million to finance a lousy press.

You can do us much help by emailing my blog to him at

I have more questions for him tomorrow.

JMTM: Let's do some simple mathematics. Watch this space!

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Friday, May 09, 2003

Like it or not, he's a Ph.D

Adulation. The main story on Page 7 NST today is about New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd group-editor-in-chief Abdullah Ahmad, alongside DRB-Hicom Berhad group chairman Saleh Sulong, going to be conferred honorary doctorates by Universiti Teknologi Mara at its 57th convocation on May 22.

A university citation introduced Abdullah as a member of the varsity alumni who graduated in accounting and secretarial studies when it was known as Rida College in 1956.

The paper goes on further (but not to be mistaken as a draft obituary):

Abdullah, 65, was appointed group editor-in-chief of NSTP on Aug 29, 2001, slightly more than a year after he was made executive director. He holds a Master of Letters from Cambridge University, and is Harvard University's Fellow of the Centre for International Affairs. He is also a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association.

He is a former deputy minister and political adviser to second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and also a former member of the Umno supreme council.

Abdullah was Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations in New York between 1996 and May 1, 2000. He has wide experience in government, diplomacy and private sector.

Nothing was mentioned about Saleh except he being Saleh a graduate in accountancy in 1973 when the university was known as Institut Teknologi Mara.

Abdullah's name was linked to the sacking of NST associate editor Rehman Rashid, May 8, for refusing to continue to be his ghost-writer.

Pak Lah's report card: NST begs to differ

It's at the bottom. Did you notice this? The New Straits Times yesterday is the only English national newspaper that downplayed Dr Mahathir's top-marks appraisal on Pak Lah who acted as the PM during his two-month holidays.

It gave a mention-in-passing of Pak Lah at the last two of a 17-paragraph story - Dr M: I am not bothered... (related to The Economist controversy) - written by senior journalist, Ramlan Said.

In contrast, The Star headlined it on frontpage: Top marks for Pak Lah as Acting PM.

theSun, featured it as frontpage main headline: Dollah gets top marks, with a bylined story by senior Zainal Epi.

What's the message, you may like to ask the Tan Sri.

Would Pak Lah be reshuffling his fleet of political secretaries to take up listening posts in strategic ministries?

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Rehman Rashid joins
No thanks to Dollah Kok Lanas

New Straits Times associate editor Rehman Rashid has been sacked for refusing to be a ghost-writer.

Online news portal Malaysiakini, ran this story at 05:58pm today: NST top journalist fired for refusing to write boss’ speech.

Rehman Rashid wrote speeches for New Straits Times’ editor-in-chief Abdullah Ahmad. But two weeks ago, he put his foot down. Yesterday (May 8), he was given the marching orders.

When I blogged on Rehman on Monday, I was told to handle it with care as he was then still under "indefinite" suspension, and nothing should be done to jeopardise his career.

Sources said, last week, he was put on domestic inquiry set up by the company to investigate charges of insubordination against him.

This is Rehman's initial reaction to Malaysiakini's Claudia Theophilus:
"I’ve never been fired from a job in my life before."

"I don’t know exactly what had transpired because I wasn’t called in (by the inquiry panel)."

"The o­nly representation is my reply to the show-cause letter."

Oon Yeoh blogged it at 4.52pm today after talking to Rehman (picture left) personally to confirm the news that will matter most to Malaysian journalism in the days to come.

Rehman, whom I used to recognise as an exponent of Malapropisms, joined NST in 1981and left seven years later after he was reprimanded for writing a scathing editorial criticising the 1987 banning of The Star, Watan and Sin Chew Jit Poh by the government during the infamous Operasi Lalang.

In this trying time, it's worth the while to revisit interesting pieces he wrote about Malaysian media, on print - The Sun rises, sets, rises, sets, rises, and on online media - Never Say Die. If you have time, also read his book, A Malaysian Journey.

Vicious circle. In journalists' circle, many have long heard of Rehman being made to ghost-write Abdullah Ahmad's speeches and columns. In the Malaysiakini story, Rehman conceded that this requirement was stated in his employment contract.

The task now has fallen, it seems, on Kamrul Idris.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Economist 25% sorry, Dr M calls it 'stupid magazine'

Wrong facts on university quota and merit-based system. This is lifted from May 10 issue (available online since May 8) of The Economist, Letter section: Malaysia replies, where its Editor says:

We apologise for our error over university quotas: a new merit-based system has been implemented this year. However, foreign banks do indeed say they feel obliged to offer Islamic banking. The composition of the Barisan Nasional does keep changing (we did not say the “core” did). Under the Internal Security Act the police act on the orders of the home minister, with no substantive judicial review. Readers can judge our survey for themselves here.

The Editor's note was attached to Malaysian government's letter of protest, which it published here. The magazine extends its apology for only one item among four cited by Malaysia.

Mustapa Mohamed, representing the National Economic Action Council, has sent a letter to The Economist, citing factual errors on four key areas: University quota and merit-based system, Islamic banking, ISA and Malaysian democracy.

The Economist also carries a letter from Francis Yeoh of YTL Corporation, who was quoted by Christopher Lockwood in its April 5 issue: The Changing of the Guard - A Survey of Malaysia. It also carries another letter by reader Jolyon Pawlyn of Bangkok, Thailand who writes on the same subject.

Meanwhile, The NST frontpaged this today: Dr M: I’m not bothered...
"If we show them a piece of white paper, they will say it is black. When we ask why it is black, they will say ‘I don't know but I see it is black,'" he added. [...]

"What they are interested in is to run down people, be critical and that way they can sell their stupid magazine." Dr Mahathir also said: "When Malaysia has done far better than practically all the other countries that achieved independence at the same time with us, they are not happy.

"They would like to see us fighting each other, like in Africa, unable to manage our own country.

"It is not worthwhile trying to convince them because they can never be convinced. Why? Because of this white men's attitude — that white men are cleverer than sawo matang (coloured) people like us."

Dr Mahathir said if The Economist was looking ways to pit one person against another, "let them do that, I am not going to respond to such stupidity".

Will the Government ban magazines like The Economist? Dr M said no.
"I think Malaysians are very intelligent. They know when they see dirt. I think they can distinguish dirt... this is pure dirt."

Najib Tun Razak's manoeuvre to upstage Pak Lah using The Economist controversy may have died an embryo.

Pak Lah received flying colours in his report card for acting as Malaysia's PM for two months that Dr M was on leave.
"I think he has come through with flying colours," he said.

"One thing I can assure you is that while I was on holiday, Abdullah did not ring me up to find out what he should do."

Dr Mahathir, who was in a jovial mood, added: "He was able to carry on on his own. Although he did report some of the things, all decisions were his. So, I think he has done well in the last two months... I wish my holiday was longer."

You hear that, Najib? Weren't you and Bernama harping on the chapter: A qualified success and Economist's alleged attack on Dr Mahathir's leadership?

Mustapha is hopelessly toothless on this count, and Kit Siang seems to agree. He asked Najib to be assigned, instead, to write a more substantive/credible rebuttal to The Economist.

The 8-million ringgit question for Ahmad A. Talib: Part II

NUJ wants details of JMTM's role. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) welcome the government's proposition to extend the role of the Joint Media Team Malaysia (JMTM) to cover news from all over the world, but it wants to know the details.

NUJ president Norila Mohd Daud (Utusan Malaysia) has asked the Information Ministry for this.

She was concerned whether the journalist' press freedom would be restricted by the government since the team is backed by the Ministry, but effectively financed by the taxpayers.

She said, "While we were quick to point our fingers for any 'inaccurate or biased' reports by foreign journalists, NUJ does not want the same thing to happen to its members."

The Malay Mail May 5 (sorry, no online links) reported her as saying that when the JMTM entourage to Iraq was set up, NUJ was not consulted, and that most of the team's members were executive level and not its members.

Norila said:

There is no point in sending a group of newsmen overseas of they are not well-prepared in terms of journalism skills and professionalism."

Do you know what these executive-level newsmen did during their stint in Amman - not Baghdad, Besra or Kirkuk - to justify their being there?

Do you know how much it cost the taxpayers to finance the Joint Media Team Malaysia (JMTM)'s mission in (more Amman than) Iraq?

Read my blog yesterday. I had several questions for JMTM chef de mission Ahmad A. Talib and I asked him to show us the book how he helped spend 8 million ringgit of taxpayers' money in one month - under his leadership - to purportedly cover the war in Iraq.

You can do us much help by emailing my blog to him at

I have more questions for him tomorrow.

JMTM: From news pooling, to plagiarising and spiking. Watch this space!

Farish A. Noor has given up

UPDATE: Read Dr Farish's My Final Column, Malaysiakini, 12:16pm Sat May 10th, 2003.

Columns to stop. Heard it from the grapevine: Dr. Badrol Hisham Ahmad-Noor a.k.a. Farish A. Noor (picture below) will stop writing his columns in NST (Cross Currents) and Malaysiakini (The Other Malaysia) from this week.

I noticed recently he has come under severe critiques by a writer known as Marissa Dell, who accused him of being an 'establishment' figure out to attack her friends in PAS.

I wonder if Dr Farish capitulated just because he took it too bitterly and too personally of the discursive challenges?

Dr Farish is a researcher at the Centre for Modern Orient Studies, Berlin, Germany. Read his article: The failure of reformasi thinkers.

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Salam Pax is back, but...

What's happening? Baghdad ace blogger Salam Pax is back alive today... with a twist.

His blog, chronicling many days of ordeals during US invasion of Iraq, was updated by another blogger Diana Moon who said "Salam Pax sent me this in a Word attachment earlier today." A day before, she received an email from his (Salam Pax's) cousin with his satellite phone number.

Salam Pax last posted on March 24, before Saddam was ousted, and went silent thereafter.

Thanks Suresh for the pointer.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

The 8-million ringgit question for Ahmad A. Talib

It's taxpayers' money. How much did it cost the taxpayers to finance the Joint Media Team Malaysia (JMTM)'s mission in (more Amman than) Iraq?

8 million bucks!

Now that JMTM chef de mission Ahmad A. Talib is back home, well rested, can he show us the book how he helped spend 8 million ringgit of taxpayers' money in one month to lead the war coverage in Iraq?

This picture shows Ahmad (standing right) briefing JMTM journalists at a hotel in Amman, Jordan on Sunday, April 13.

A day before, three Malaysian journalists were abducted.

I spent that Sunday blogging on the turn of events, as none of the local media websites carried any updates (Read: here, here, here and here). I feared for the worse, and prayed hard for their safe returns. It was a response out of affinity. One of the abducted journalists, Terence Fernandez, stays in my neighbourhood.

Later that Sunday night, I caught Ahmad over TV1 giving a press conference announcing the release of the journalist.

I noticed Ahmad was dressed in a suit that did not paint a picture of a journalist at work covering a war.

I checked my time on that particular Sunday, Ahmad's announcement of the release was three hours late!

The thoughts that crossed my mind were that, as the JMTM team leader, wasn't he supposed to "lead" the journalists in Baghdad?

THINK ABOUT THIS: Why did he hire vehicles bearing Syrian number-plates - a target for Iraqi Shi'ites who are anti-Syrian - to transfer our journalists to Baghdad, putting their lives in danger? Read: Bargain with God.

CONTRAST THIS: Information picked up from people-in-the-know saidt Ahmad was given a chaueffeur-driven car - I don't know whether it was a courtsey of our embassy.

Little has surfaced so far to dispute the perception that this guy looked like he was having a great time in Amman while our JMTM members are risking their lives to give Malaysians a sound coverage to balance off propaganda from CNN and US news wires.

THINK ABOUT THIS: JMTM dispatches told us that our journalists had to walk up 17 flights of stairs at Hotel Sheraton Baghdad which was cut-off its electricity supply. The journalists couldn't even charge their batteries to power-up their notebook PCs and satelite phones.

CONTRAST THIS: Ahmad has nothing less than a soft pillow and 5-star hospitality in his Amman suite.

More importantly, we have an issue of basic ethics and moral here. His Pahit Manis instalments - exclusively for his paper New Straits Times - could have been written while the rakyat paid for his bills in the Jordanian capital.

You can email him at

NUJ wants details of JMTM's role. Watch this space.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Get well soon, Yasmine!

US kills. Malaysia heals. This girl, nine-year-old Iraqi Yasmine Wa’adi, lost her legs when the United States-led forces bombed her Baghdad home on April 9.

She arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Monday with her father, Wa’adi Makhtoor Hassan, together with the Joint Media Team Malaysia (Media Malaysia) team of 27 journalists, and was sent straight to the Chinese Maternity Hospital to receive medical treatment.

Doctors reported she adjusted well to the new environment, but prosthetic (artificial) limbs will not be able to be fitted if her legs do not remain straight.

The fact that Yasmine survived to make it here, in Malaysia, stands lingering testimony of how bad US hegemony has been, and will be, if nothing is done by the global community to check its hawkish arrogance.

US destructs, the world takes pain to heal.

I can't depict Yasmine's plight better than the journalists who saw her make the trip to our country. Before the links at The NST expire, allow me to transcribe a fitting story by Shamsul Akmar:

THE story of Ya Yasmine Wa’adi, the nine-year-old Iraqi girl who lost both legs when US forces bombed her house in Al Saab, on the outskirts of Baghdad, is one of sadness.

Flying to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow for further treatment, Ya Yasmine has no knowledge that her brother Rahim, 26, had sacrificed himself to save her.

Her father, Wa'adi Mathkoor Hassan, said the family did not want to cause Ya Yasmine any more pain until she recovered fully from her injuries.

"We told her that Rahim had left Iraq. However, Ya Yasmine seems to sense something amiss. She accused us of lying to her." Ya Yasmine's plight first came to the attention of the Malaysian public when the Joint Media Team Malaysia came upon her in the Al Qadasiya on April 12.

Ya Yasmine's wounds, which were caused by the bombings on April 9, were still bad, but what caught the attention of the journalists were her twinkling eyes and her ability to smile despite her misfortune.

Relating the events leading to the tragic incident, Wa'adi said the family had just finished dinner about 9pm and were waiting for electricity to be restored so that they could watch the television.

"Suddenly, we heard the sound of explosions and shootings around our house. "Then we heard a loud explosion and our roof started crumbling. Rahim rushed forward and used his body to cover Ya Yasmine.

"Within seconds, I managed to look around me and saw that Rahim's back was bleeding profusely. I used my headgear to stop the bleeding.

"Then I saw Ya Yasmine, who was pinned under Rahim, and her legs were already severed.

"Another of her brothers, Jaafar, picked up Ya Yasmine, who was unconscious, and I used some cloth to bind her severed legs which were bleeding. "My other son Ibrahim was also badly injured in the head." Wa'adi said the bombings went on for about an hour and when it stopped, he rushed to a neighbour's house, got his pickup truck and drove Ya Yasmine, Ibrahim and Jaafar, whose leg was injured, to the Adnan Kharalah medical centre.

"I left Rahim behind because by then, I knew he was already dead," Wa'adi said.

Ya Yasmine remained unconscious for two days and when she regained consciousness, the first thing she did was to ask for Rahim, her favourite brother.

Asked how Ya Yasmine was during the early days of her ordeal, Wa'ad said: "She has not cried since she regained consciousness. She has always been a strong girl, even prior to the incident but since then, she has become stronger." If anyone were to see Ya Yasmine and not notice that she had no legs from the knee below, many would not know that her stumps have yet to fully heal.

On Thursday, Dr Khalil Ramli of Global Peace Mission/Aman Malaysia, who was in Baghdad with other members of the organisation to dispense humanitarian aid, helped dress Ya Yasmine's wounds.

Both he and members of the organisation present were impressed with Ya Yasmine's perseverance.

Ya Yasmine squirmed and gritted her teeth in pain as Dr Khalil tried to remove the bandage which had become stuck to her wounds as they had gathered pus due to lack of proper medication.

She then told the doctor to let her take off the bandage herself and she did it without raising a whimper.

Ya Yasmine's trip to Kuala Lumpur is made possible by some generous organisations and individuals who were contacted by JMTM leader Datuk Ahmad A. Talib, who is also the New Straits Times group editor.

Wisma Putra and the Malaysian embassy in Amman played a big role in preparing her travel documentations.

Ya Yasmine is expected to receive medical treatment as well as artificial limbs.

Ya Yasmine will leave Baghdad for Amman today and Ahmad will receive her on the Jordanian side of the border.

She will fly direct to Kuala Lumpur about 2am tomorrow (7am Malaysian time) in a Royal Jordanian flight and is expected to reach Kuala Lumpur about 3pm.

Ya Yasmine, who will be accompanied by her father, does not seem worried about going to a foreign land for the first time in her young life.

Her father, however, is leaving with a heavy heart, worried about the condition of his son Ibrahim, who is still being treated in the hospital.

But Ya Yasmine, like any other child of her age, is truly excited.

Knowing only Arabic, she has been trying to learn Bahasa Malaysia and English.

"Maybe I can get to talk to your children," she said through an interpreter. — JMTM

Related stories are available here, here, here, here and here.

We will see if Ambassador Marie T. Huhtala brings her flowers while she recuperates.


I accidentally erased yesterday's first blog, on Robert Fisk's take on Iraq: Stand by for the Iraq War, Part II

So he thinks it's all over... George Bush has announced the end of the war. But try telling that to the Shias and the Badr Brigade, says Robert Fisk of Independent.

When Iraqi civilians look into the faces of American troops, President Bush famously told the world on Thursday, “They see strength and kindness and goodwill”.

Untrue, Mr Bush. They see occupation.

For those who missed the article in theSun Monday, click here.

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Open Source people are upset

All Talk, No Action. Really? Open Source people are upset with an article carried by The Edge: NetValue2.0 May 5 edition.

Dinesh Nair (picture left) has written to author Sharmila Ganapathy expressing his disappointment at the way it was handled, and he also entered it at his blog here.

Here's Dinesh's later posting on MNCC OSSIG mailing list:

actually her article was correct, adoption is low and i don't dispute that. that's not what i was disappointed with. what disappointed me was that in spite of me telling her specifically that there were no concrete studies done on open source adoption, she went to to make the conclusion that companies have decided that it does not meet their business needs.

how does one make a conclusion like that without analytical data ?

Vincent Lee went to The Edge website to register his disappointment. He urged people to send an email to to express their view on the inaccurate report.

Others posted their disappointments on the MNCC OSSIG mailing list. This one is from Ditesh Kumar:
Some parts of the article are flamebait, eg: "While sharing the source code, in theory, would allow software developers to help strengthen security features, it could also expose existing programs to the threat of virus writers and hackers. His scepticism may not be all that far-fetched, despite the belief of avid "open sourcers" that sharing the source code will lead to better and more secure software. Human nature being what it is, the danger of the code getting into irresponsible hands exists."

Utter bullshit. She apparently has not been part of the computing world in the past few years where FOSS has consistently been quicker to release patches for security bugs, often within hours. It is thanks to code review and an open environment for code audit that major FOSS has had a better security history than proprietary software.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Pak Lah's report card

What's the verdict? Pak Lah must have sighed a sigh of relief when PM Dr Mahathir came back to work on Monday (May 5). He assumed the acting Prime Minister post on March 6, and political pundits were saying it was test on his leadership. How has he done well?

May 6, The NST said two major challenges Pak Lah faced in the last two months have been the SARS scare and the ban on the Iban Bible, Bup Kudus.

The paper made no mention of the shadowplay - some call proxy war - between Najib Tun Razak and him behind the Economist April 5 issue which has simmered.

Journo vs Journo. On the media handling of the Economist issue, It looks like blogger/jourrnalist Oon Yeoh and political analyst James Wong are biting on to DD Wong like rottweilers.

Oon has earned his reputation for being the first to showcase the hallmark of subservient journalism, while James has this to say:

"Unlike The Star's executive editor Wong Chun Wai, I am a proud subscriber and regular reader of the London-based weekly the Economist for the past 20 years. [...]

"Given the real alignment or distribution of political, economic and military forces in the world today, it is rather shocking to hear a top editor of a leading English-language newspaper publicly proclaiming with misguided pride and misplaced patriotism that he never reads the weekly regularly.

What other foreign newspapers and periodicals does he regularly read to broaden his mind then? North Korea's Workers' Daily? Lyndon LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review?

James drew up a list of five observations about the "narcissitic mindsets and psyche" of a segment of Malaysia's ruling elite, here. Oon has a related commentary, here.

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Open Source: Where are we now?

Freeing up the software. Two competing business magazines run an Open Source story each this week.

The May 5 edition of The Edge: NetValue2.0 asks: All Talk, No Action. The online version is expected to be available by Wednesday. UPDATE: Tuesday May 6, 7.00pm: The article is on the web now.

The May 1 edition of Malaysian Business, in which I write a fortnightly column on K-economy, has an interview with my good friend, Dr Nah Soo Hoe (picture left, the only one I have).

Nah is the current chair of SIRIM's Technical Committee on Information Security Standards (ISCG/T5), and a council member of Malaysian National Computer Confederation (MNCC). But he humbly considers himself an open source enthusiast, advocate and practitioner.

Click here for an excerpt of Nah's interview. Section editor Prathab wrote the story.

New theory: Blogs to power Malaysia's Internet presence?

ISPs aren't complete without blogs? A fair bit of traffic to this blog today was generated by Raslan Sharif's article just published in The Star's TechCentral: Malaysian ISP battle heats up.

The article said, while TM Net and Jaring are competing keenly for share-of-voice, the number of domain name registrations has been decreasing from 10,743 since 2000 to 8,118 in 2001. There are only 1,792 new registrations as of March 31 this year.

Raslan has an interesting proposition:

Well-known Malaysian-owned .com websites are a rarity, but if there were one Internet-related activity that could push more Malaysians to establish a presence on the Internet, then perhaps weblogs have the most potential.

As it stands, several local weblogs have been making waves for various reasons, like Jeff Ooi's Screenshots ( and Oon Yeoh's Transitions (

Neither Jaring nor TM Net currently offer any blogging services for local Internet users.

Oon Yeoh has complained to me that his Blogger updater, a free web service owned by Google, has been down since Friday.

Here's an interesting article by Ditesh Kumar at Do Away With The Artificial Monopoly. Liberate The Copper Lines. As a Streamyx user, hee has a strong view about the ISP. I am so glad to see he runs his website using php.

Thanks Mohan for the pointer.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

A US journey for Rehman Rashid?

Malaysian agenda. New Straits Times associate editor Rehman Rashid (picture below) appeared alongside National Translation Institute chairman Abdul Aziz Rahman on RTM1 talkshow Point of View on Saturday night, moderated by Bernama executive editor Azman Ujang. Their discussion topic was How Objective is the Foreign Media, aired in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day 2003.

They reached consensus by saying that the government should create mechanisms to make immediate response to "bad reporting" by the foreign media.

This seems to echo what I have been lamenting about Malaysia's extreme tardiness in handling the Economist issue. The government machineries took 21 days to respond, while some serving (DD Wong) and former (Munir Majid) journalists shot from the hip when the whole town was talking about it.

Rehman said the answer to bad reporting was good journalism with good thinking and by putting the record straight.

He opposed the idea of banning such foreign publications because of bad reporting as, he said, such action would only indicate that they were right. "Look at the arguments and respond to it," he said.

He suggested Malaysian authorities and leaders should emulate their Singapore counterparts for their quick response and immediate action against issues which were considered damaging to their images.

On press freedom in Malaysia, Rehman said more freedom sould be given to the media so that it could be more professional in carrying out its duties, which include providing better access to information.

He conceded that freedom is a less a birthright than a privilege which "we can rather lose if we don't cherish it."

The last time I saw Rehman was when went on a live interview with CNN - complete with jacket and tie - during the heat of US aggression on Iraq.

Much to my surprise, he spoke against US hegemonious power, albeit rather vaguely.

I thought, being bestowed with a grant from the US Department of State to participate in the International Writing Program (2001) at the University of Iowa, he would have been bought over wholesale, and his Malaysian Journey re-routed.

What has happened to his Wednesday column in NST, anyway?

MIMOS accused of competing with Bumi firms

Mimos clean-up long overdue. Mimos Berhad was the main target when Second Finance Minister Dr Jamaludin Jarjis said government-owned companies should consider withdrawing from sectors in which Bumiputera firms are present to avoid competing against them.

He said it was Government policy that such companies do not compete for Government contracts in sectors which had Bumiputera entrepreneurs.

The issue of Mimos competing against Bumiputera entrepreneurs for Government contracts in the IT sector was raised at a seminar on entrepreneurship organised by the Umno Youth economic bureau recently..

Jamaludin, who is an Umno supreme council member and Rompin MP, said the Government would look into it and would suggest that Mimos withdraw themselves.

More from New Sunday Times, yesterday:

"In the past, they (Mimos) were involved in getting Government contracts in the IT field, since at that time there were no Bumiputera companies which had the capital or expertise to participate in it."

Jamaludin added that the Government would ask its subsidiaries and agencies to participate in sectors which had no Bumiputera companies such as bio-technology, but these companies should withdraw if in five to 10 years time, there are Bumiputera companies in that sector.

He added that others had also complained that a subsidiary of Malaysia Airports Berhad was competing against Bumiputera companies in the retail sector and that the Government would look into the matter.

Having sunk in around RM1 billion of taxpayers' money in wafer fab technologies, Mimos should know payback time to the rakyat is from this sector and not the assemblying of PC by appointed OEMs. It's an insult to Mimos, the self-claimed pinnacle of Malaysian IT innovation, to continue occupying the lowest end of IT value-chain.

How about all those clean-up talks that Mimos will be streamlined into three entities, reporting to three ministries? And the governance behind Mimos' forex investment scam via Metrowangsa?

Jamaludin and his boss should learn from the futility of rearranging furniture in the sinking Titanic. The entire Mimos senior management, starting from the Board to the CEO's core team, should be changed. It's already 5 minutes to midnight.

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