Restrictions on media freedom are preventing the people from finding out what the government is up to, say Yugashini Sukumaran and Kanmani Rengasamy.
The media is a crucial element of democracy. A democracy allows for a free press and encourages expressions of thought. The existence of plurality in the media encourages a higher quality of information and news to be channelled to the people. But the press needs to be separated from commercial sources to help minimise political interest.
Rightly or wrongly, the non-traditional media over the internet is widely seen as the ultimate alternative source of information. It has allowed people to be highly interactive in political issues.
In Malaysia, media freedom is highly restricted by the ruling federal government. Most of the traditional media are controlled or maintained by the ruling party or individuals close to the ruling political parties.
Media freedom is one of the characteristics of a democracy. It gives meaning to freedom of speech and of the press. Newspapers should allow for the protection of and support for the rights of the people. They should also provide critical surveillance of the government and its actions.
But freedom of the press in Malaysia has been bottled up by limitations on freedom of expression. Furthermore, in line with the theory of ‘social responsibility’ in its press policies, the Malaysian government has allowed some degree of freedom of expression though this right “must be balanced against the private rights of others and against vital social fascinates” (Gautheir, 1999).
In reality, the media has been deployed to offer favourable coverage of the government for its survival and less so for community purposes. That is helped by the fact that Malaysia’s mainstream newspapers are largely owned by the government or businessmen and public figures with close ties to the ruling parties.
Thus, these media operate in a restricted space and the real information flow to the people is throttled. The people are restricted from receiving real information and expanding their knowledge of what is going on.
Such an approach makes many wonder whether Malaysia is now ruled by an authoritarian government. To change this situation, the government must be transparent; it should channel news to the people and remove the tight restrictions on the print and electronic media.
She participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups held in Ipoh with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
Although interested in politics, Yugashini (left), who comes from Perak, readily admits she was “not that much interested in writing articles at all”.
But that changed after the workshop. “I learned a lot – that we should share something good that can contribute to society (in the form) of articles… so, this made us write an article about a current issue happening around us.”
Yugashini wrote this piece together with her university course mate, Kanmani Rengasamy (right) from Selangor.