Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"18 Big Fish"

April Fool lands website in hot water

By Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
April 13, 2005 - 2:53PM

Malaysia's government plans to penalise an independent news website for an April Fool's prank in which it reported that three ministers were being prosecuted for corruption.

The Cabinet has decided that website should be punished, Parliamentary Affairs Nazri Aziz was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times newspaper.

"You cannot just relay news which is not accurate," Nazri was quoted as saying. "It is irresponsible and tantamount to slandering the government."

Nazri did not specify what action would be taken against the site, one of the few independent providers of news in Malaysia where most of the media are controlled either by the government or ruling party politicians.

Malaysiakini has often run afoul of the government for its critical reporting, and has been barred from state news conferences in the past.

The Information Department does not recognise it as a media organisation, and government leaders accuse it of disseminating pro-opposition views.

On April 1, the news site published a report saying Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had given permission to prosecute three of his Cabinet members and a state chief minister for alleged corruption.

The report was followed three minutes later by a piece titled "Who are the Gang of Four - some clues," which revealed the report as an April Fool's joke.

"Seriously, folks, did you really think top politicians - and not one but four - would be charged in court for corruption?" the second article said.

It said Abdullah has failed to keep his electoral promise of leading a clean government and "we thought that only April Fool's Day would be appropriate for such a tall tale!"

Opposition leader and veteran politician Lim Kit Siang said the government's reaction only showed that the website's story had "hit home, very deep and very hard".

"It would be ridiculous and outrageous to take any action on the Malaysiakini April Fool's story," Lim told The Associated Press.

"It is the reaction of a guilty party, it shows that there is something amiss in the whole campaign against corruption."

- AP