COMMENT Home Minister Zahid Hamidi is way off the mark by going after the media over the disclosures surrounding the 1MDB scandal. It is the job of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to explain to the public his (mis)handling of the mother of all scandals and not for Zahid to try to protect him.

Neither is it the job of the media to defend itself over the political correctness of such disclosures. The media is duty-bound to inform the public in a timely manner after reasonable attempts to verify the information so received about 1MDB.

The fact that state or party-controlled mainstream media have chosen to cover up the 1MDB scandal involving debts of RM42 billion while the independent media have pursued it vigorously, is no excuse for Putrajaya to silence professional and robust journalism.

In his enthusiasm to bail out Najib over the debt-ridden 1MDB scandal that stinks of corruption and incompetence at the highest levels, Zahid must first remember that the federal constitution guarantees free speech.

This means the minister cannot go on a witch hunt for no rhyme nor reason. The correctness of his actions or the lack of it is also subject to judicial review. Zahid must also not forget that freedom of expression is a fundamental universal human right.

Self-deluding mainstream press

The minister, like many of his colleagues, may have grown up in an environment where the ruling regime especially Umno is so used to emasculating the press to the extent that they begin to delude themselves into believing that censorship and blatant violation of the right to speech is their birth right. It is not and never has been despite the armoury of draconian press laws that the regime has put into place to keep itself in power ever since independence.

According to Malaysiakini, Putrajaya will cooperate with Thai authorities with the aim of taking action against The Edge Media Group and whistleblower websiteSarawak Report.

This follows the arrest three days ago of former PetroSaudi International Ltd executive Xavier Andre Justo, a Swiss national, by Thai police for leaking company secrets to Sarawak Report.

Zahid told reporters in Putrajaya yesterday that the information reported by the London-based Sarawak Report and later reproduced by The Edge was untrue, because the facts had been "twisted".

"Investigations will be conducted to identify the appropriate laws that can be used to charge (the perpetrators).

"In view of the arrest in Thailand, we will provide any form of assistance requested by the Thai authorities, including providing witnesses from Malaysia.

"We believe that (the perpetrators) must be fully responsible for any action (that will be taken) resulting from the false reporting or intentional spinning (of facts)," he said.

Leaked details not challenged

There is something seriously wrong with Zahid’s witch hunt. Firstly, the subject of media disclosures is Najib, who is also the finance minister and 1MDB adviser. Neither he nor anyone else have challenged the accuracy of such disclosures until yesterday’s claims by Zahid.

Both Najib and 1MDB have done such a bad job of explaining themselves that even former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has gone on record to say 1MDB president Arul Kanda is a liar and DAP's Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua upped the ante by calling the company's public face "liar extraordinaire".

This is after 1MDB, in a lengthy explanation recently, tried to deflect Mahathir's accusation that Arul had lied about 1MDB's funds.

The moot point is that Putrajaya and 1MDB have both in trying to defend themselves have in effect  acknowledged the disclosures by Sarawak Report and the Edge Media Group to be bona fide.

The fact that Xavier Andrea Justo was arrested by Thai police for allegedly leaking company secrets to Sarawak Report does not automatically make those who published such leaks guilty of wrong reporting or spinning.

There’s no smoke without fire, which means that if people are saying that someone has done something wrong but no one knows whether it is true, it probably is true. Or as the Malays say, ‘baling batu sembunyi tangan’, meaning ‘berbuat jahat lalu pura-pura tidak tahu’ (pretend to do no wrong).

Be that as it may, in whatever language, the fact remains both Najib and 1MDB have thus far been unable to explain away the fire and Zahid cannot now point the smoking gun at those who saw the smoke and reported it.

It was Mahathir who fanned the fire out of control. But is there anyone jantan enough or have the balls to take on Mahathir. Zahid should take up the challenge instead of being merely a media bully.

BOB TEOH is a free media advocate and formerly secretary-general of the Confederation of Asean Journalists.