KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24, 2007 (Bernama) -- The publication permit of the Tamil daily, Makkal Osai, has been suspended for one month from today until Sept 24 for publishing a front-page caricature of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette in one hand and a can of beer in the other.
The Internal Security Ministry made the decision following the publication of the offending picture in the newspaper's Tuesday edition under its "Quote of the Day" column, with a caption quoting Christ as saying that those who repent for their mistakes would go to heaven.
"Makkal Osai has contravened a permit condition under sub-section 6(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984," the ministry said in a statement issued here today.
It said the ministry's action againt Makkal Osai was in line with provisions in the Act to ensure that newspapers did not publish articles or pictures which could threaten public security, harmony and morality, or seriously disturb the thinking of the people, or that contravened the law and threatened public or national interest.
A day after the publication of the offending picture, Makkal Osai openly apologised for the oversight, with its general manager S.M. Periasamy quoted as saying that the picture was mistakenly inserted by a graphic artist.
However, a number of non-governmental organisations and political bodies still pressed for stern action by the authorities against the newspaper.
The MIC even lodged a police report against Makkal Osai over the caricature.
The country has two other Tamil dailies, Tamil Nesan and Malaysia Nanban.
Makkal Osai or "The People's Voice" was published as a weekly newspaper for 15 years before it became a daily from December 2005.
It is an offshoot of Tamil Osai which ceased operations in 1990 following a management dispute.
-- BERNAMA Makkal Osai suspended
Aug 24, 07 5:27pm Malaysiakini
The government today slapped a one-month suspension on Makkal Osai after the Tamil daily published an image of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette and a beer can.
The suspension order takes effect today and will end on Sept 24.
The two-year-old daily, which has a staff strength of about 100, was informed of the decision via a faxed letter from the Internal Security Ministry at about 5pm.
When contacted, Makkal Osai general manager SM Periasamy said the letter noted that the publication of the image was inappropriate and could endanger public order.
“We will be appealing to the government. It was a genuine mistake on our part and we have apologised to all parties,” he said.
The letter said the daily breached the ministry’s printing permission guidelines as stipulated under the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
“Makkal Osai’s decision to publish the image was inappropriate and was insensitive to the multi-racial and multi-cultural society,” read the two-page letter.
“Such an action could breach the national security,” added the letter which was signed by Publications Control and Al-Quran Texts Unit secretary Che Din Yusoh on behalf of the ministry’s secretary-general Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof.
It said the Internal Security Minister had taken the action under section 6(2) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
A genuine mistake
The suspension comes just a day after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also internal security minister, ticked off the daily for publishing the image.
The offending image was published on Aug 21 on the front page of the daily beside the masthead. The message that accompanied the image encouraged sinners to repent.
The image and the message was part of the daily’s regular ‘Thought for the Day’ feature which highlighted famous quotations of world leaders and philosophers.
On Wednesday the daily had published an apology for the publication of the image, stating that it was a genuine mistake and the staff concerned had been suspended.
Nevertheless the Christian community voiced its displeasure over the issue while a police report was lodged by a MIC leader against the Tamil daily.
MIC Youth also submitted a memorandum to the ministry on Wednesday calling for action to be taken against the daily.
Periasamy said that he was disappointed with the decision to suspend the daily, “especially when we had taken the initiative to apologise after realising the true nature of the image.”
“We apologised to everyone concerned. The Catholic Church accepted our apology. Others too accepted our explanation,” he said.
Pressure from rivals
He added that he was upset with the role played by MIC and Tamil Nesan in pressuring the ministry to act against his daily.
“On the very next day, MIC Youth submitted a memo calling for our banning. A party member lodged a police report against us and party leaders started criticising us over the image,” he said.
“And Tamil Nesan too played its role by instigating anger towards us,” he charged.
Periasamy also claimed that Tamil Nesan had also committed the same offence by reproducing the image in their stories, especially in their northern region editions. Tamil Nesan is owned by MIC president and Works Minsiter S Samy Vellu’s family.
“If that’s the case, they too should be punished,” he said.
Makkal Osai, closely linked to Samy Vellu’s rival and former MIC deputy S Subramaniam, has been a constant critic of the works minister.
In recent months it had been running regular articles on the sudden death of drama actress K Sujatha, impliedly linking her to Samy Vellu’s son Vell Paari who has denied any wrongdoing.
Makkal Osai has also been a vocal critic of Maika Holdings, the failed investment arm of MIC.
It was in the midst of running a special feature on Maika in time for the company’s annual general meeting on Aug 30.
Makkal Osai was a weekly publication for 15 years before it became a daily newspaper since December 2005.
This newspaper was formed when Tamil Osai folded in 1990 due to management conflict.
The leading Tamil publication in the country in Malaysia Nanban.