HISTORY OF THE ESTABLISHMENT THE DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION MALAYSIA
The history of the establishment of the Department of Information began from the date of the establishment of the Department of Publicity and Printing in September 1945. However, prior to that, there had already existed governmental agencies that performed the functions of public relations, namely the Malay States Information Agency which was established in 1926. This agency was restructured to adapt to the civil administration beginning April 1, 1946 and was given the new name, The Department of Public Relations. In 1950, the new name was changed to the Department of Information with organised and expanded duties and responsibilities. This Department was placed under the Ministry of Information which was established in 1961.
The earliest report of the Department available in the National Archives was a monthly report for September 1945 which mentioned that the Department was established on September 24, 1945. The minutes of the D.C.C.A.O. Conference dated September 22, 1945 recorded that the Department of Publicity and Printing was represented by Colonel Dumeresque (Director Department of Publicity and Printing, British Military Administration, Singapore) and Major Walker (representing the Department of Publicity and Printing, Kuala Lumpur). This Department was established with the objective of restoring the image of the British Government which had been adversely affected by the Japanese occupation. The British Military Administration began on September 5, 1945 and ended on March 31, 1946. The British Military Administration was confronted by a state of turmoil after the Japanese occupation in Malaya. A section of the people had lost confidence in the British. At that time, several nationalist organisations had existed with the objective of liberating Malaya from the colonisation of any foreign power.
THE ROLE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION MALAYSIA 1940s to 1990s
Since its establishment, the Department has been entrusted with the responsibility of providing information to calm and control situations. Information was delivered through face-to-face communications, printed materials and radio broadcasts. At that time, the department of Publicity and Printing was also responsible for radio broadcasting. Besides that, the Department was also responsible for printing as well as overseeing the printing of all forms and other materials required by all government departments. On April 1, 1946, the Department of Publicity and Printing was dissolved and given the new name of the Department of Public Relations which took over all the functions of the Department of Publicity and Printing. Since then, this newly-named Department was no longer responsible for printing and broadcasting. Only in 1950 was the name of the Department of Information adopted in keeping with its functions and responsibilities.
At the early stage of its establishment, the Department performed the role of liaison between the British government and the local people. This role became even more important because there were many among the local people who were still illiterate while members of the British administration were generally not conversant with the language and customs of the local people. Thus, staff members of the Department acted as interpreters and liaison officers between them.
The role of the Department became increasingly important in clarifying and disseminating rules and regulations issued by the government to every nook and cranny of the country. The Department was also required by the British government to provide it with information and feedback on the people’s reactions and public reactions and public opinion. In short, the role of the department was to nurture understanding of the people and maintain the stability of the nation.
MOBILE UNITS AND FILM SHOWS
The Department was well known for its mobile units that were conspicuous throughout the country. The functions of the mobile units were outlined in an official directive to the Department dated May 20, 1946 (Department Instruction No. 2). The duties and responsibilities of the Mobile Units were as follows:
- To provide accurate information and proper advice to the public.
- To nurture good relationship between the people and the government as well as to co-operate with local officers.
- To establish good relationship between the people and the Mobile Units of the Department.
- To obtain feedback from the people for submission to the government.
- To submit reports on the relationship between the units and the people.
Film shows were the most popular activities of the Department during those days. In every state, there were Mobile units equipped with 16mm projectors. State Public Relations Officers and staff of the Department were very popular in their respective states due to their duties and responsibilities in delivering speeches and screening films. Usually, the Units would travel to every nook and cranny of the state to show films at locations that would attract large gatherings especially at the school playing fields.
Information Centres were established in the major towns throughout the country since 1945 to carry out such activities which are presently performed by Information Bureaus. Among the earliest Information Centres was the Information Centre at Java Street Kuala Lumpur which was opened on October 20, 1945. Information Centres became places where members of the public came to read books, listen to the radio and look at pictures of events within and outside the country that were on display. The Centres served as important channels for the purpose of disseminating information in urban areas.
Press Communications had been an important element ever since 1945. The function of Press communications was performed at the Headquarters by the Press Relations Officers who were assisted by Reporters. They were responsible for carrying out news coverage and issuing Press Releases especially on official events related to government administration. Important topics included government programmes such as food production, health campaigns, health education, financial savings and other campaigns. The Division also conducted Press Conferences and ensured accurate reporting by the Media.
Until 1947, this Division had five sections:
Press Releases SectionEssential News SectionNewspapers Cutting LibraryProduction of articles for publications in foreign magazines especially in England for the purpose of making Malaya knownTranslation Section
The Department has published various materials such as posters and pamphlets ever since its inception. In 1946, the Department published 14 book titles besides the Departmental newsletter known as Malayan Observer. Malayan Observer contained news about government activities and current events in Malaya. A Tamil edition of this newsletter was also published for distribution in the estates. The Department also published books that could be used as reference materials. In 1946, the Department published and translated ‘The History of the Second World War” which was used in schools. Besides that, the Department published pamphlets especially on hygiene and cleanliness, food production and aspects of the Constitution and nationhood. Posters also featured as a channel for the dissemination of important information on hygiene and cleanliness, thrift and savings, welfare and dieting.
Activities on exhibitions were managed by a division called Artist and Caption Writers Division. This Division produced pictures and captions for display at all Information Centres and also on the display boards which were provided. Exhibitions served as very useful information channels for conveying vital information to members of the public, especially to those with lower reading ability. The Department participated in this activity and also provided its expertise to exhibitions sponsored by other agencies. At the end of 1946, for instance, the Department participated in the Royal Australian Exhibition in Sydney and the British Industries Fair.
In October 1946, the Department established a theatrical group comprising amateur artistes. They performed in Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan. Their stage performances consisted of plays, singing and dancing themed on the virtue of saving money and the importance of education. In 1947, Tamil Drama Party was set up and performed in estates especially in Kedah and Perak. This entertainment media had succeeded to attract the interest of the public.
The Department also played a major role in efforts to save the nation from communists’ threats during the Emergency. The whole machinery of the Department was activated towards this end. A great deal of material for public announcements was provided by the Department entreating the people to unite and fight against the communists. Members of the public were urged to give their support to the government and prohibited from helping the communists, and pamphlets or appeal letters were printed specifically addresses to remaining communists still hiding in the jungles. The appeal letters were often air-dropped on the eve of Chinese New Year. The Department’s staff also went into the jungles and were in the front line trying to appeal to the remaining communists to give up. In 1957, the Department launched a counter-subversion campaign that explained to the people the dangers posed by subversive elements.
THE ADVENT OF INDEPENDENCE
The responsibilities of the Department became even more purposeful at the approach of the much-awaited auspicious moment, the Independence of the country. Department staff worked hard delivering speeches and making announcements. Members of the public were enlightened on the meaning of democracy and being self-dependent. No less important were efforts to shape public thinking and nurture loyalty to the Federation of Malaya. On Independence Day, Mobile Units were stationed at places of public gatherings throughout the country to put in place the public announcement tools to be used for the declaration of Independence. Through radio sets made available by the Department at every Information Centre, members of the public could follow the live broadcast from the Merdeka Stadium. Thus, the people throughout the whole nation could experience the feeling of simultaneously celebrating the historical occasion. This was something so meaningful to the department in its efforts to instil the spirit of loving the nation.
The task of the Department during the post-Independence era has been obtaining the support and participation of the people in ensuring the successful implementation of all government programmes. In the context of a plural society, the Department has helped in carrying out various campaigns to instil harmony and unity between the races or ethnic groups. The Department had organised Civic Courses, Civic Gatherings and Civic Day in every state. The focus had been on areas such as educating the people on nationhood and on current issues appropriate to the locations where the activities were held. The Department worked hard to provide publicity to the roles and functions of the government departments and agencies that were established. The Department also provided its services on such occasions as and when the public disorder occurred in Penang in 1957.
Mobile units had helped the police placed a situation under control. Department staff worked round-the-clock to broadcast reports through Radio Malaya and Rediffusion. These reports were principally aimed at countering rumour-mongering and maintaining public calm.
The Department of Information ceaselessly played the role of fostering the mindset and psychological attitude of the people towards achieving the objective of national development. Major campaigns launched by the Department were consistent with current developments going on in the country. Various activities were carried out to provide the public with information regarding the New Economic Policy, the Constitution, Rukun Negara, National Education Policy, the history of the struggle for Independence of the nation, Amanah Saham Nasional, the threats and dangers of drug abuse, national security and various government policies.
The principal roles of the Department in the Independence era may be summarised as:
- Striving to prepare and accustom the mind of the people to a desired motivation through various activities such as face-to-face communications assisted by the other communications medium available to the Department of Information.
- Striving towards transforming government aspirations to be identifies as the people’s aspirations regardless of race, and thus ensuring that these are accepted, adopted and assimilated by the whole society.
- Creating two-way communications between the people and the government.
In 1961, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was established under the Prime Minister’s Department and was placed under the purview of the then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Raj with Syed Jaafar Albar as his Junior Minister. At the same time, the Department of Information was placed under the purview of the Ministry of Information.
DURING THE CONFRONTATION
When the country was facing the confrontation in 1962-1963, the biggest responsibility of the Department was to combat the propaganda campaign launched by Indonesia and the opponents of the formation of Malaysia which comprised leftist political organizations in Brunei and Sarawak. During the early stages of the confrontation, the Director-General of the Department at that time, Datuk Mohd Sopee Ibrahim travelled all over Malaysia to give briefings and explanations to Officers of the Department. The focus of activities was along the country’s coastal areas. Members of the public were always reminded about landings made by the enemy and were asked to report to the police should they detect any strangers in their villages.
Mobile Units kept the public informed especially to the rural people not to believe and instead counter accusations and propaganda by Indonesia. The Department also helped to organise mass gathering to explain to the people the real situation about the confrontation and on anti-Sukarno gatherings. The activities of explaining the situation outside the country were also intensified to obtain international support, until the end of the confrontation.
POST 13 MAY INCIDENT
Following the occurrence of the May 13 tragedy, the Department once again was given the responsibility of maintaining harmony between the general public and restoring public calm. Officers of the Department worked very hard to restore the confidence and unity of the people so as to save the country from destruction. In 1969, the Foreign Information Division was transferred to the Foreign Ministry. After the May 13 incident, the Government launched various strategies and campaigns to promote unity and build national resilience. The main post May 13 activity of the department was to secure the support of the people to make a success of the New Economic Policy and instil the ideals of the Rukun Negara (National Charter) in every citizen especially among the youths. Since then, the New Economic Policy and the Rukun Negara have been the main focus of the Department’s activities.
ERA OF VISION 2020
The roles and functions of the Department of Information were being intensified, planned and structured in keeping with the national objective, aspiration and philosophy aimed at making Malaysia a developed nation by the year 2020. The role of the Department is to inculcate into the minds of the people the thinking as well as the philosophy behind Vision 2020. Besides, the roles and objectives of the Department also has been to foster the emergence of a Malaysian nation, well-informed and with self-respect, for the purpose of achieving political, economic and social stability consistent with the aspirations of Vision 2020 towards becoming a developed country.