by Our Own Correspondent (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 2, Shawwal, 1416)
This school boy craze for scoring the first in everything seems to be the Malaysian idea of progress. Malaysia can now boast of having the largest number of everything tallest, longest and biggest - tallest flag-mast, tallest twin-tower, tallest telecommunication tower, longest bridge and in another decade the biggest dam in the world. Curiously enough Malaysia also has the largest number of monarchs, outnumbering even all the kings, emirs and sheikhs put together ‘ruling’ the Occupied Arab World. Another first it can boast of is that it has the biggest brewery in the world in spite of the fact that it aspires to be the role model for the Muslim world. All these efforts to prove its prime minister’s vision that ‘if they can do, so can we.’ It follows then that if they cannot do we cannot do. But here again Malaysia wants to be the first to defy the West in proving that it can do even if they dare not do it. This appetite to secure the admiration of the West is shameless to say the least.
Malaysia is the first and only country in the world today to allow a cigarette company to sponsor TV broadcast of this year’s Atlanta Olympics. The Olympics Games will be telecast to viewers in Malaysia, courtesy of Peter Stuyvesant. Football (including major events such as the World Cup) is sponsored by Dunhill, motor racing by Marlboro, even the traditional ball game Sepak Takraw has a tobacco company sponsor, Perilly’s. The list goes on.
The Ministry of Information seems to be at war with the Ministry of health. Health department has called for the withdrawal of indirect adverts on the TV before the Commonwealth Games to be held in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Yet, Malaysia would not endorse this year’s World No Tobacco Day theme - “Sports and the Arts Without Tobacco” - because its information minister thinks that tobacco and sports are inseparable. The poor minister himself is a victim of this long term exposure to such advertisement in Malaysia for he cannot think of taking part in any sports without a long Dunhill sticking out of his mouth. He thinks that it is part of the sports attire.
While the rest of the world is taking strict measures to control tobacco advertising and promotion, Malaysia alone will be doing the exact opposite. The US wants to make the country a no-smoke zone by the year 2000 while Singapore has already imposed very heavy fines on those who smoke in public places. In contrast, the Malaysian government is actively promoting tobacco brands by allowing such tobacco advertisement associated with sports and healthy activities - a grave distortion of the actual contribution of smoking to public health.
The Olympics, the biggest and most prestigious sports event in the world, is tobacco-free and has been so for the past eight years. The 1988 Winter Olympics Games held in Canada were the first smoke-free Olympics Games. Since then, all Olympics Games have been smoke-free. In keeping with this smoke-free tradition, the organisers of the Atlanta Olympics have banned smoking in all arenas and stadiums.
In many third-world and developing countries, television stations are directly or indirectly controlled by the governments. TV licence fees collected from the public constitute a major government revenue which is enough to run the TV stations. Thus the Malaysian government’s decision to allow mass scale cigarette advertising to raise revenue is crass commercialism unbecoming of a democratic government. This is cynical to say the least.
The honest thing for the government to do is to openly allow direct cigarette adverts rather than fooling the public behind a facade of legality. The government claims that cigarette adverts are banned and but not Cigarette names and symbols. This is even more damaging than the direct adverts because these symbols are now associated with healthy activities such as sports and travels, arts and artifacts. The tobacco companies themselves regard the indirect adverts better than the direct adverts for this way this sordid business has better image. They also admit that these indirect do indeed help increase cigarette sales.
Only ten years ago, there were fewer than 2 million smokers in Malaysia. Today, 46 per cent of the country’s population are smokers - which means the cigarette companies have managed to rope in almost all the then teenagers into the smoking net before they became adults. About 9,000,000 people are now puffing away their hard earned money and their lives - and seven million new smokers in ten years! Paradoxically, the majority of these smokers are the Muslim Malays in spite of the fact some among the Islamic scholars regard smoking haram (forbidden) and preach against smoking. In a recent survey it was found that even the members the Islamic party in Malaysia, PAS, are not safe from this scourge. A large number of PAS members admitted to be smokers, thus they too have been knowingly and unknowingly contributing to the mega-billion Jewish-dominated tobacco industry. The profit Western cigarette companies make daily must be astronomical by any standard.
In Malaysia, television programmes, sports and the arts rely heavily on sponsorship from commercial enterprises, and tobacco companies are among the main sponsors. American tobacco companies in Malaysia which make millions, and perhaps billions of dollars worth of profit every month, use them as an opportunity to promote addictive and hazardous products among the young. Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM), the State-owned broadcast station, receives 40% of its advertising revenue from tobacco companies, which not only promotes cigarette smoking but are in the forefront of such mass third-rate entertainment programmes imported wholly from the decaying West and blended with the pagan East.
However, the Malaysian government under the leadership of prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad - who successfully lulled many into believing him to be the ‘spokesman’ for the Muslim/Third World - continue to defend, protect and justify indirect cigarette adverts. He can sell his weird logic as long as the press is under the tight control, again to defend ‘law and morality’, added to this is another sop that these laws are necessary to protect ‘Asian values’.
Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996