“May Day!” for Malaysia’s press freedom

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One Malaysian daily ushered in World Press Freedom Day by booting out the National Union of Journalists president Hata Wahari. Under such trying circumstances in Malaysia’s media industry, Mustafa K Anuar suggests it might be more appropriate to holler, “May Day! May Day!”

Ha’ta Wahari – Photo courtesy of malaysiakini.com

May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day (WPFD). But it’s not really an occasion for us Malaysians to celebrate because we simply don’t have any good reason to do so.

Why? you might ask. For one thing, Malaysia’s press freedom ranking plummeted last year to 141st position, 10 rungs lower than that of the previous year.

More embarrassingly, Malaysia is now one notch lower than Singapore’s, a country that is not known for press freedom!

As if to usher in WPFD, the controversial Utusan Malaysia has seen it fit to send yesterday the letter of dismissal to employee and National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president Hata Wahari for having exercised his duty as the head of Malaysia’s journalistic fraternity.

The newspaper management should acknowledge Hata’s right and responsibility as NUJ president to express deep concern about journalistic professionalism in Malaysia as well as Utusan’s controversial reporting of late. Hata’s professional concern should have instead been appreciated by any journalist or newspaper management worth their salt.

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The newspaper’s pathetic action suggests an inability or, worse, refusal to appreciate freedom of expression even among journalists and employees, let alone members of the general public.

Of late, mainstream media, including newspapers, seem to have found the ‘freedom’ to report passionately lurid issues such as the sex video scandal that allegedly implicates Parliamentary Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. They have even paraded segments of the video clip on their front pages. What is unjust is that the maligned party is seldom given the right of reply. And even when the right of reply is given, the space is limited.

These dailies, in their reporting of the sex video episode, have given a new twist to the journalistic term normally associated with investigative journalism, i.e. ‘expose’. Obviously, such despicable reporting will not improve the social and professional standing of the newspapers concerned.

If anything, these newspapers appeare to be competing to be in the same league as the likes of Britain’s News of the World, known for its racy and sensationalist reporting.

And when they’re not in the mood to adorn their pages with sexy stuff, some of these dailies tend to fill in the deafening void with half-truths and distortions of reality especially in the run-up to many of the elections held in the country, the latest being the one in Sarawak.

At best, certain sections of the mainstream media have a tendency for biased reporting, giving an edge to the Barisan Nasional and its friends over Pakatan Rakyat, government critics and other concerned Malaysians.

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Online newspapers are not spared either whether it is indirect censorship or even political harassment despite repeated high-level assurances of non-censorship of the Internet.

In the meantime, restrictive laws associated with curbs on press freedom and freedom of expression – such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act and the Internal Security Act – are still intact. Moreover, the ownership and control of the mainstream media are very much in the grips of the ruling BN and its economic allies.

Under these trying circumstances in Malaysia’s media industry, would it not be more appropriate to holler, “May Day! May Day!”?

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