Umno may bar media from upcoming general meeting

Proposal to prevent media from listening to debates in bid to limit further damage to PM Najib

Umno may restrict the media from listening to the free-flowing debates at its annual meeting next month, in what would be a major departure from a longstanding tradition as it tries to contain further damage to its chief, Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The proposed move was made public a day after the party decided to bar its rebellious deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin from addressing delegates at the joint opening of its three wings, in an unusual move to gag a top Umno leader.

"If you behave yourself, I can behave myself; I can open it to all of you," Umno's secretary-general, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, told reporters yesterday.

Earlier yesterday, he told The Star newspaper that media coverage at the assembly will be severely limited due to "some media spinning rubbish".

The 3.4 million-strong United Malays National Organisation (Umno), Malaysia's biggest political party, holds its annual general assembly for five days from Dec 8.

The meeting is the country's most-watched annual political event, with hundreds of media personnel thronging the party's headquarters to report on the speeches and debates.

Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan had told The Star that the media will only be able to listen in to official speeches by the leaders and attend the daily news conferences at the end of the meetings.

When asked about the planned media restrictions yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters the decision is not final but referred them to Tengku Adnan for further queries.

The moves against Tan Sri Muhyiddin and the media were made after a year of attacks against Umno president Datuk Seri Najib.

Mr Najib's leadership has been questioned by friend and foe as he tries to control the hot potato issues of the debt-laden state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and the discovery of RM2.6 billion (S$867 million) in his personal accounts.

Mr Najib sacked Mr Muhyiddin from the post of deputy prime minister in July. The latter, though, is still the Umno deputy president and has continued to attack his party boss.

One of the three party vice-presidents, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, has also turned against PM Najib.

Said Universiti Utara Malaysia's Professor Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani: "Probably they suspect supporters of Tun Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin or Shafie Apdal will use the platform to criticise the leadership and it will tarnish the image of Umno."

The president of the National Union of Journalists in Peninsular Malaysia, Mr Chin Sung Chew, said the press was never barred from previous Umno annual meetings.

"If the media is spinning stories, then Umno should take legal action provided under the present relevant law. What is there to be afraid of if they are upright?" he said in a text message to The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'Umno may bar media from upcoming general meeting'. Print Edition | Subscribe