Sarawak premier directs state sec to resolve Christmas programme dispute

Desmond Davidson

Premier Abang Johari Openg is reported to have ordered the state secretary to resolve Christmas programme dispute between the Sarawak churches and the state-owned Sarawak TV. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 29, 2023.

SARAWAK Premier Abang Johari Openg has reportedly instructed State Secretary Mohamad Abu Bakar Marzuki to meet with the organisers of “A Christmas Carol, Sarawak in Diversity Programme” to address what caused the unhappiness of the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) and save the Christmas programme that showcases Sarawak’s religious diversity. 

The programme began to unravel when ACS, which represents the major Christian churches in the state, turned down an invitation to be a part of the programme over the refusal of its organiser, TV Sarawak (TVS), to change just one Christmas carol. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an aide to Deputy Premier Douglas Uggah, who oversees the Unit for Other Religions (Unifor), said Uggah would not be issuing any statement after his meeting with the premier this afternoon. 

“The State Secretary has been directed to talk to TVS,” he said. 

Abang Johari is expected to be the guest of honour at the December 3 programme at Padang Merdeka in Kuching. 

Earlier today, ACS president and Anglican bishop of Kuching Danald Jute, in a “leaked” letter to the organisers and Unifor director Jack Aman Luat informed them of ACS’ decision and stated that the association had requested the state-owned TV station to change just one carol, the pop-rock song “Jingle Bells Rock”, to a more traditional Christmas carol, “O Holy Night”.  

“We are only requesting to change one song. Since TVS is unable to fulfill this request, our ACS team feels that we cannot participate in the programme,” Jute stated. 

Jute said TVS’s explanation on why they could not accede to the request mentioned that “it was rejected due to the religious elements and also due to the protocol from Lembaga Penapisan Filem (Film Censorship Board) and MCMC (Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission).” 

Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil has come forward to say that MCMC had nothing to do with the refusal to allow “O Holy Night” to be sung at the event. 

Jute had called TVS’s explanation unacceptable. 

“Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is about Christ.  

“There is no Christmas without Christ,” he said. 

Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian, in a posting on his Facebook, stated he supported the stand made by ACS on this matter.  

“Indeed, without Jesus Christ who was born into this world to save all of mankind, there is no meaning in celebrating Christmas. Take away ‘Christ’ from the word ‘Christmas’, and what you have left is just a ‘mas’,” Baru said. 

Later, he told The Malaysian Insight he had no idea why the Film Censorship Board and MCMC should be meddling in the organisation of the event. – November 24, 2023. 

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