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press freedom

On 3 May 3, World Press Freedom Day, we honour the bravery of journalists who face obstacles head on, and the ingenuity they show in getting around them. But journalists themselves cannot — and should not — be press freedom’s only line of defence, writes Annie Game.

A recent documentary on the film festival circuit pays tribute to the vibrant culture of repurposing and conservation that has flourished in Madagascar in the aftermath of the global economic crisis. The film, Ady Gasy, takes its name from a common Malagasy expression meaning “Finding a way” — a reference to the spirit of resourcefulness and ingenuity that are at the heart of this culture of self-reliance.

In a climate of growing insecurity — both physical and financial — journalists, too, have become quite adept at finding a way. Finding a way to reduce their vulnerability. Finding a way to get past censors in order to publish sensitive material. Finding a way to get news stories out when governments control access to paper, printing presses or distribution networks. Finding a way to get past firewalls to access information online.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “Let Journalism Thrive”, invites us to think about what elements are needed to support a healthy, free and independent press.

One of the most crucial of these is a vibrant civil society that defends and promotes these freedoms. Organisations like those in the IFEX network provide a voice for vulnerable media workers around the world, by exposing free expression violations and rallying global calls for justice.

But even with these defenders, how can a free press flourish in an environment of autocratic government, endemic corruption, and financial vulnerability?

One way that journalism continues to thrive in such difficult conditions is thanks to the resourcefulness and ingenuity shown by journalists themselves.

Reporters exploit cracks in the system to remain one step ahead of those who seek to silence them. Whether it’s getting around censorship, barriers to access, or laws set up to protect the corrupt, those who work to investigate stories and share information in the public interest have to be on their toes. Their creativity goes way beyond having a way with words, and their actions often put them at considerable risk.

These individuals are admirable, courageous — at times downright awe-inspiring — but we cannot make them the foundation for press freedom. They are not a substitute for the kind of strong, supportive systems that allow a free press to flourish. A climate where free press can truly flourish is one where all of us — ordinary people — can do our jobs.

So on World Press Freedom Day, let us honour the bravery, ingenuity and resilience of those reporters around the globe who continue to find a way to bring us crucial stories. It is important to recognise the courageous efforts of human rights and press freedom defenders who support them.

But let’s work toward a climate where journalism can thrive without relying on heroes and heroines, and without creating so many martyrs to the cause. We owe them that much.

Annie Game is the executive director of IFEX, a global network defending and promoting free expression.

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AM coverChallenges to press freedom have emerged as opposition parties run into difficulties in renewing permits for their party newspapers. Such obstacles strengthen the  suspicion that the BN government doesn’t take kindly to criticism, observes Mustafa K Anuar in our cover story.

What else do the authorities want to control, wonders Soon Chuan Yean. Cartoons and T-shirts as well, apparently. These restrictions unfortunately limit people’s choice of what to read and even what to wear.

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Critical analyses of fundamental issues like environmental degradation, unsustainable urban development and poverty are prominent by their absence, writes Eric Loo. Media discourse is framed more by its  ‘service of power’ than service for the rakyat

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The shouts of joy that greeted the election of Abdullah Badawi as prime minister have now turned into whispers of apprehension, notes Angeline Loh, even as the media abdicate their responsibility.

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abdullah badawiOne cannot depend merely on the personality of a leader to bring about fundamental reforms to major social institutions such as the media, writes Wong Kok Keong. However different the media are under Abdullah (compared to how they were under Mahathir), the environment now is hardly conducive for independent, critical media to take root and flourish.

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In the midst of the Mahathir-Abdullah spat and consequent spin-doctoring among the journalistic fraternity in Malaysia, a commentary that condemns the latest book ban of 18 titles instituted by the Internal Security Ministry recently is indeed a welcome relief.

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Charter 2000-Aliran has dissected the proposed bill to set up a Media Council, and its findings are not pretty. There appear to be virtually no safeguards in the interest of freedom of expression or real journalistic ethics. It is too ambiguous in areas that should be clearly defined and explained. Overall, it is an extra curb on press freedom in the country.

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The following press analysis was originally written for the New Straits Times following its invitation to us to contribute a regular column. But this first contribution to the column was eventually rejected by the establishment daily's powers-that-be for reasons best known to themselves.

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