Drop the  mantra and red herring that there is no absolute media freedom to justify media censorship and unfair media practices as no one is asking for absolute press freedom – only  a “free, independent and responsible” press

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Tuesday): Government Ministers and media censorship apologists should drop the mantra and  red herring that there is no absolute media freedom to justify media censorship and unfair media practices, as no one is asking for absolute press freedom – only  a  “free, independent and responsible” press. 

New Straits Times Group Editor-in-Chief Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad said yesterday that absolute media freedom does not exist anywhere in the world and only a naďve and ignorant person or a fool and an idiot would believe that such a freedom exists and that such freedom exists in the US and Britain. 

I fully agree with Abdullah Ahmad, but would add that only a fool  and an idiot would believe that there is anyone in Malaysia demanding  “absolute media freedom” and since he is no fool or idiot, why is he spreading such a canard? 

Even a respected journalist like The Star associate editor Bunn Negara also repeated  this mantra of  no absolute press freedom during the World Press Freedom Day forum organized by the Asian Institute for Development Communication (Aidcom) on Saturday – when he should know better  that nobody in Malaysia  had ever advocated absolute freedom for the press or other forms of human rights  whether freedom of speech, expression, information, assembly or association. 

The mantra that there is no absolute media freedom is trotted out to justify the lowly world ranking for  the Malaysian  press freedom situation and one of the root causes for the   “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise brilliantly diagnosed by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his first major speech as Acting Prime Minister in early March. 

Instead of such meaningless mantra, government ministers, media barons and their spokesmen should address the genuine issues as to why Malaysia cannot have a free, independent and responsible press and why Malaysia should be blind to international criticisms, like the atrocious  110th ranking of Malaysia  out of 139 nations in the Reporters Without Borders worldwide index of press freedom released last October. 

In terms of press freedom, Malaysia is  behind at least 75 countries which are economically more backward, whether  in  Southeast Asia  like Cambodia,  Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, but also  African and Middle Eastern   countries like  Turkey, Egypt, Yemen and  Haiti.  

But what is   even more shocking is that Malaysia has lower rating for press freedom when compared to  more than a score of countries whose per capita GNP are less than 10 per cent of Malaysian per capita GNP like Laos, Eritrea,  Mozambique, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Tajikistan, Chad,  Togo, Kyrgyzstan,  Ethiopia,  Rwanda, Mali,  Uganda, Niger, Tanzania, Madagascar, Ghana, etc. 

Malaysia’s ranking in this year’s  press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders is likely to be even worse, with the crackdown on Malaysiakini in January, the conviction and RM5,000 fine of Harakah editor for sedition last week and the furore over The Economist special survey on Malaysia more than four weeks ago. 

Abdullah in his speech entitled “The Role of Media in Establishing of Laws in Malaysia”  to communications  students from Universiti Putra Malaysia made no reference to Malaysia’s lowly ranking in the company of  some 20 per cent of the nations in the world with the worst press freedom record, unless he agrees with the conspiracy theory of  Deputy Information Minister, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin that the Paris-based Reporters without Borders is “an invisible arm” of US foreign policies to smear Malaysia’s press. 

Abdullah’s definition of press freedom in Malaysia as “freedom governed by law” is most shocking and outrageous, when he should be faithful to the topic of his speech and explained  what the New Straits Times Press Group had done to campaign for the removal  from the statute books the repressive laws inhibiting the emergence  of a free, independent and responsible press   – such as the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Sedition Act and the Internal Security Act. 

Abdullah’s claims of   NST’s role in increasing the “temperature of the society’s pressure” on ecological issues has only highlighted its failure to increase the “temperature of the society’s pressure” for accountability, transparency,  democracy and good governance. 


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman