I have never missed attending an Umno General Assembly since 2003. It’s one of the most exciting and fun times of the year for me because of many reasons.
The first time I ever did a live news cross-over on television was from an Umno General Assembly and I remember being so nervous in front of the camera. Ahh.. nostalgia.
I also get to meet a lot of friends. From former journalism colleagues to even university-friends-turned-wannabe-politicians, it’s always a good place to catch up.
The food is pretty good too. The media get access to a dining area that is filled with good Malay dishes that will give you a heart attack in a week if you didn’t control yourself.
And of course, the best part of the general assembly would be all the speeches and statements being made by the members throughout the whole week or so.
There would be all the funny stand-up comedy material that we will all be entertained by, and the racist rhetoric that we will all be annoyed and pissed off by.
And because Umno is the biggest party in the Barisan Nasional coalition, whatever statements or commitments made during the party’s assembly by default almost like national policy.
So the general assembly would definitely be of public interest and the media would all flock to it, from the Malay press right up to the Chinese and Indian as well as the foreign ones.
To be honest, all the general assemblies that I have attended have been pretty open affairs in terms of access for the media, at least for those who are accredited.
Members of the media could walk the hallways speaking to people and also enter the different halls were speeches and debates were going on.
So it is quite a shock for me to hear that the party, through its secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, they are considering barring the media totally.
Or maybe the signs were already there. News organisations have been targeted. Several news sites and publications have been harassed through raids and even suspensions this year alone.
More recently, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) decided to stop having press conferences and would only release written media statements to the public.
It seems that they might be afraid that ‘sensitive’ issues that the party leadership may discuss could end up being reported by the media for the public to to read or view.
Wait a minute! Isn’t that the point exactly? Here is the country’s biggest political party and they are having a general assembly where party (and national) policies are being discussed.
Wouldn’t the need for the media to be there so that the public are more informed be one of the top priorities? Wouldn’t it also be good to have the media there for check and balance?
Or do you suppose that the country’s biggest political party actually have things they want hidden from the media and the public?
After his initial comments, Tengku Adnan made an about turn and has come out to say that there will be no media ban. The grassroots want the general assembly to be carried live.
It looks like the people have spoken and the powers that be had to concede. But after all these years, I’ve learned to not take things at face value too much. So let’s wait and see.