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Making Progress

Published: Friday September 5, 2014 MYT 3:24:00 PM
Updated: Friday September 5, 2014 MYT 3:38:56 PM

Press freedom cuts both ways

THE press plays a crucial role in the development of any modern and progressive  society. In fact, the press has been identified as the fourth estate of democracy  besides the executive, legislature and the judiciary. A press can only be credible and function effectively if it is free and responsible, in other words is must be believable.

A disturbing statistic was narrated to me a few weeks back. I was reliably informed that 16 million Malaysians have Facebook accounts and they spend an average 9 hours a week on Facebook. Malaysians are amongst the most active Facebook users in the world. This statistic got me thinking, I too spend a lot of time on Facebook but like many Malaysians on Facebook, it is not my primary source of news because it is unverified and easily exaggerated and manipulated.

Hence, despite the challenges faced by newspapers and online news portal, one must prudently subscribe to news that is verified and credible. Malaysia’s press has come a long way in this regard and news outlets are more balanced in their reports and outlook. I accept there more can be done but steps taken in the last few years is a clear indication of the willingness of those in authority to subject themselves to greater criticism. I understand criticism is hard because even on simple things like my cooking (I do like to cook), I find it rather difficult when I am criticised on how my food tastes. Hence it is more difficult for those in power but power comes with responsibility and scrutiny.

Those in power must accept this a sine qua non. In this regard, I find it troubling that certain press outlets have been subject to bullying by public officials. The most recent example is the diatribe by the Chief Minister of Penang against a Chinese media outlet after one of its reports asked some pretty tough questions over the Penang Voluntary Patrol or better known as PPS.

Lim actually went on to complain that the same media outlet and reporter in question would never dare to question an Umno or Barisan Nasional leader in the same vein. First, it is a shoddy and facetious comparison because Lim chooses to ignore that the Chinese press are known to be robust in their reporting and both sides of the political divide have been subject to their scrutiny.

Again, what troubles me is that the CM of Penang has a very myopic and shallow understanding of press freedom. I can summarise his views on press freedom along the lines that the press is only free and responsible if they write good things about him and any attempt to scrutinise his policies or governance model makes the press outlet and the reporter concerned a lackey of BN.

This is most unfortunate and belittles the important role played by the press in the development of our democracy. There has been many times where I have found certain news outlets as utterly biased but I am proud to say Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia has never banned any news outlet from covering any of its event. This is testimony to our belief that even if the press do not write good things about you their freedom must be respected.

Hence, it is my sincere hope that the Penang State Government will stop making scapegoats out of the media and actually introspect on what he is doing in Penang. Press freedom only works if it works both ways and it is the responsibility of all political actors to ensure that this remains the case.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

Tags / Keywords: opinion, Making Progress, Ivanpal, press freedom

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