Still notches away from press freedom

Today is World Press Freedom Day, an occasion for celebration in some countries, but a day for some serious stock-taking in others. In Malaysia, the option is for the latter, especially if the latest report on the state of the world’s press freedom by the Freedom House is anything to go by.


Malaysia is ranked at 141st position among the 195 countries surveyed by the American non-profit organisation, a position that is way behind neighbouring countries of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. This ‘bottom of the class’ situation is obviously something that we can’t shout about and celebrate.


It is the kind of report card that depresses many Malaysians, especially after they experienced the so-called political tsunami in the recent general election. Why, they still have to come to terms with the existence of undemocratic laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act and, of course, the draconian Internal Security Act.


This means that as far as the Malaysian press is concerned, it is still subjected to the dictates of the Home Ministry via the PPPA. Thus, while it is appreciated that, for instance, the Ministry had eventually agreed to ‘grant’ the publishing permit to Suara Keadilan – after many years of waiting patiently – and finally renewed the permit of the troubled Tamil daily Makkal Osai, the ugly fact remains that the ‘fate’ of these and other publications lies in the hands of the Home Minister.


Put another way, the survival of a publication cannot be dependent on the mere discretion of an interested Home Minister. Equally disturbing is that the aggrieved party (that is denied its right to publish) has no legal recourse under the existing PPPA.


In a thriving democracy, as most of us are aware, the freedom to publish is a matter of right. And this includes the right of any political party (and, in Malaysia, the recent case being Parti Keadilan Rakyat [PKR]) to publish its organ that is aimed at its members and the general public. It is to be expected that any political party worth its salt would want to disseminate its ideas and ideology to the larger society. Hence, any attempt by the state to confine the dissemination of these ideas and also the circulation of the organ only to party members (as in the case of Pas’ Harakah) is an infringement of this democratic right. This is especially so when the mainstream press consciously avoids the Opposition like the plague or, worse, distorts things that are said by the Opposition.


As for the Makkal Osai case, if it is true that the underlying reason for the Home Ministry’s earlier rejection of the paper’s management’s application for a renewed permit was because the daily had also covered events and issues pertaining to the Pakatan Rakyat, then one can only conclude rather sadly that the Home Ministry has a myopic view of democracy and freedom of the press.


The world has moved on, and many Malaysians – both individuals and groups – have shown, particularly of late, that they expect the federal government to be open to the crucial idea of media reform. The outcome of the recent general election suggests that, among other things, Malaysians in general are no longer easily duped by the journalistic distortion and disinformation that characterised, and still do characterise to a certain degree, the mainstream press. In fact, it would easily insult the intelligence of the ordinary Malaysians if the mainstream press and certain editors and journalists were to still pursue the kind of journalism that can only be termed as anachronistic, unprofessional and unethical.


There is indeed an urgent need to repeal all those laws that constrain the growth of a free and responsible press in the country.


It is our earnest hope that the next report card (of press freedom status) will put Malaysia at a position that can make Malaysians feel proud – and not malu.






3 Responses to “Still notches away from press freedom”

  1. 1 samantha 5 May 2008 at 8:44 am

    Bravo! bravo! bravo! welcome to the blogging world and looking forward to ur bantering and all…err…bantering ke? 🙂

  2. 2 Antares 5 May 2008 at 10:48 am

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Mus! Fond memories of your Aliran column… but here we are in the Digital Age and you can reach an infinite number of people via your blog. Tags are very important. That’s how people who run Google searches sometimes end up reading your stuff 🙂 I began my Magick River blog in December 2006… and since then have been constantly craving more sleep! 🙂

  3. 3 Mr Smith 5 May 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Welcome to blogging.
    We need to put some sanity into this administration which does not know how to respond ‘rejection by voters’.
    50 years of unbridled power has made them lunatics.
    Please help them.

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