Why media freedom is good for Najib and Malaysians

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It ensures that those on either side of the political divide – as well as others in civil society – get fair treatment and access to the media, says Mustafa K Anuar.

Lessons in life are sometimes best learned – unfortunately – when you are down and out.

Ex-prime minister Najib Razak recently expressed sadness that he was apparently deprived of access to the media in his effort to communicate with the general public. He has only social media to resort to, he lamented.

But first, let us put this issue in its proper perspective. Najib does have access to the media but not to the extent when he was the most powerful man in the country.

Surely, he doesn’t expect the kind of treatment that he often got then from the mainstream media that would treat his words like pearls of wisdom, or when certain journalists would worship the ground he walked on. Not that such journalistic practices can be considered right or ethical.

The so-called plight that he is in now is nothing compared to what many of us had to endure.

Remember how disdainful he was towards people who had expressed even the slightest criticism of him?

Remember, for example, how dance producer Bilqis Hijjas was dragged to court simply because she let go of a few yellow balloons that had words such as justice and freedom on them?

Remember how artist Fahmi Reza, who drew Najib in clown face all over the place, was hounded no end?

Remember how political cartoonist Zunar was subjected to various charges and a travel ban for having used his pen to lampoon Rosmah Mansor and Najib?

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Remember what happened to those who dared to use the keyboard to show Najib’s frailties, with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission eventually descending on them like a ton of bricks?

Of course, this is not to say that two wrongs should make a right; that is, if it is indeed true that Najib has been denied access to the media.

What we’re saying here is that freedom of expression and of the media is one of the vital pillars of a robust democracy that needs to be guarded jealously – and not trampled upon with utter contempt especially by people in power.

Another lesson for Najib to learn here is that harbouring and expressing views that are different from those of the powers that be should not be considered a criminal act because this is part of the diversity that we’re supposed to celebrate in our multi-ethnic and multicultural society.

As someone who has just been relegated to the opposition side of politics, Najib should realise how important it is for the media to be free and independent at all times in a democracy.

This is to ensure that those on either side of the political divide – as well as others in civil society – get fair treatment and access to the media. A level playing field is certainly important. Only then would there be no need for the leader of any vanquished political party to express sadness at being sidelined by the media.

This is especially so when any party from either side of the political divide can now be defeated at the polling stations in Malaysia.

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Source: The Malaysian Insight

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