KUCHING: The government must review all legislation that stifles press freedom if it wishes to create a conducive atmosphere and ecosystem for the media, says Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.
In this connection, the social activist said it was high time for the government to review the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
"(This Act) has been contentious whenever the subject of press freedom is discussed," he said in a statement on Wednesday (May 31).
Lee welcomed the assurance given by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim that the media was free to criticise the government, as this was in line with press freedom and good governance in any democratic nation.
"It is particularly reassuring and significant when the Prime Minister said that the Opposition's views and criticisms against the Prime Minister and the government should be voiced out without fear," he said.
During the National Journalists' Day celebration last Sunday (May 28), Anwar had said the media should be free to criticise the government without fear or favour and that coverage should be extended to Opposition parties.
However, Lee said freedom must be exercised with responsibility and added that in a multiracial nation like Malaysia, the media must refrain from publishing material or quoting sources on matters that could cause racial disharmony.
"So, press freedom must be exercised with a degree of restraint when it comes to sensitive issues," he said.
Lee said the Malaysian print media were generally aware of this need over the years and had been responsible in their coverage.
"Yes, we also had some dark moments in the past when our media was suppressed and journalists jailed, but given Anwar's assurance, we hope that there won’t be a return to the dark ages," he said.
Lee added that press freedom was crucial for a well-functioning democracy, holding governments, powerful institutions and business interests accountable by providing information, analysis and criticism.
He said press freedom was also important for a vibrant exchange of ideas to promote creativity, innovation and intellectual growth, while providing citizens with timely and accurate information on a wide range of topics.
"It is also important for the readers and consumers of news to remember that they too have a crucial role to play.
"They must keep an open mind and not be too quick to judge and cast aspersions on the media when it prints news and views that they disagree with," he added.