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Tuesday May 27, 2008 MYT 9:34:29 PM

No such thing as unlimited freedom, says PM

KUALA LUMPUR: There is no such thing as unlimited freedom and the media should not be abashed of "voluntary self-censorship" to respect cultural norms, said Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The Prime Minister said different societies hold different values and while it might be acceptable in secular countries to depict a caricature of Prophet Muhammad, it was clearly not the case here.

"It is not a moral or media sin to respect prophets.

"In a globalised world where news travels in the blink of an idea and is accessible to all, cultural insensitivities and arrogance can lead cultures to clash and nations to collide," he said Tuesday in his speech at the Asia Media Summit 2008.

His speech was read out by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Abdullah said his government continued to support "ethical journalism" and its fundamental consideration was to have a media that was not only free but responsible as well.

He said the Government also wanted the media not to undermine racial and religious harmony to the extent that it could threaten national security and public order.

"This is not always easy when we have media that cater to different ethnic constituencies with their special religious sensitivities," he said, adding that the country too needed laws that protected people from criminal defamation and core institutions from seditious attacks.

"I do not see these laws as curbs on freedom. Rather, they are essential for the healthy functioning of our society. It may cost us a few decimal points on the World Press Freedom Index, which is based on specific assumptions and premises.

"But our security and the well-being of our society takes precedence," he said.

Abdullah said with the advent of new technologies, the Internet had enlarged the meaning of "freedom of expression".

The Web, he said, has lowered to "near zero" the barrier of entry to "anyone wanting to say anything to potentially anybody and everybody, anywhere around the planet."

He said the Government, businesses, ordinary people and even the practitioners themselves were "both liberated and challenged" by the unleashing of information and communications technology.

Abdullah noted that because of the unlimited choice and competition, the old media was responding quite robustly after being on the losing end for a number of years.

He believed that even as it loses its monopoly on the people's attention, the traditional media still could be at the leading edge of providing content because quality journalism was still by far the domain of the old media.

"I urge you not to be too taken in by the bells and whistles of technology but to hold fast to your established virtues of accuracy, intelligence, fairness and grit. These are values that set you apart from the excesses of information upon us now," he said.

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