Public Scrutiny and Privacy: Where Is The Line?

I hope to quickly address some of the comments made by tweeples in the last one day with regards to my 3 tweets commenting on a news piece from Australia alleging that the Prime Minister’s daughter spent A$60,000 at one go on a shopping spree.

My apology that it took about 12 hours before I respond, I seem to be obsessed with cows and cattle lately 🙂

First and foremost, I admit that I did not go to the extreme details to verify the news. The news was first picked by www.keadilandaily.com and later on was featured in many Facebook posting, showing a newspaper cutting featured in The West Australian (a prominent local newspaper) that can be seen here.

By 1 November 2011, the same newspaper cutting is also featured in Malaysiakini including a quote of denial from AgendaDaily.

If the issue is I did not go all out to the extreme details to verify the news, I gladly admit to that and I offer my utmost apology. I fully understand that public accountability and standard goes both ways – while we in Pakatan Rakyat expects the highest standard of verification from Barisan Nasional and the media, the same applies to us as well. I admit I have erred in that respect.

For the time being, I will not comment or tweet on the issue any further until there is more verification on the authenticity of the newspaper clips and the news itself.

However, I feel that it is not fair to draw an exact parallel between this issue with the concerted attacks and slanders on Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s son, citing quite far-fetched principles of privacy applicable to the families of public office holders.

The allegation against Lim Guan Eng’s son was clearly fabricated and was proven as such, drawing strong denials from Lim Guan Eng’s family, the school and even the alleged victim who went as far as considering taking legal actions. The strong public rebuke was in response to the incessant attacks by Umno bloggers, cyber troopers and personalities AFTER it was proven that the allegation was fabricated, especially Umno Youth Head’s refusal to apologise for his rather personal and unprofessional tweets.

While the latest issue involves a non-politician member of the Prime Minister’s family, there is a strong public interest in the issue given a series of documented expensive overseas travels incurred by the Prime Minister’s entourage (including his wife) using the public fund.

I agree that the allegation needs prompt verification and if it’s proven that it is a hoax, any comments or insinuations (mine included) must cease immediately to be followed with an open apology (which I am more than willing to do).

However, to put a ban on any discussion on any family members of a politician on the basis of privacy is stretching the latter’s principle a bit too much.

Politicians and public office holders should not only be clean, they must also be seen to be clean. In the famous tagline of the British politics, politicians must be seen to be “whiter than white”.

My tweets were made in that context and I made no apology for the intention and inspiration to see that the public offices of the land will one day be occupied by Malaysians of the highest virtue.

But I do apologise for the failure on my part to fully investigate the veracity of the news clips first before I tweeted; thus not upholding the high standard that I expect from other politicians, from which I will refrain from commenting on this issue until full verification is made.

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