19 April 2008

Makkal Osai and our unfree press culture

If anything positive at all came out of the Makkal Osai banning case, than it is the confession by the Internal Security Minister, Hamid Albar, that the press in this country is governed by a list of “guidelines”, the details of which are only for his ministry to know and for the rest of us to make approximate guesses about.

Based on the unfortunate experience of the Makkal Osai, I can only make a guess that if any newspaper wants to be safe, and to be able to publish uninterruptedly, in this country then it must not make any attempt for fair coverage of the news as far as the government-opposition divide is concerned.

I do not believe the minister’s assertion that fanning racial sentiment and hatred is a criterion for which action against Makkal Osai was taken, because in no way can the journalistic slant of that small-circulation newspaper be defined as being more bigoted and more racist than that of the Umno-controlled Utusan Malaysia.

For several weeks now, specifically since the Umno-led BN government suffered losses at the 12th General Elections, there is no other way that the journalistic slant of the Utusan can be described other than as being stark racist. The only difference from the Makkal Osai is that the Utusan practices unbalanced coverage of the news in favour of Umno and BN as against the opposition.

Why is that, one would ask, the Utusan is not subjected to the same punitive measures as the Makkal Osai – I would call the measure as banning although Hamid Albar, in yet another attempt to hide behind technicality, would call it just the “the withholding of the annually renewable publishing permit.”

Should any international and foreign press freedom NGO again comes out with yet another accusation that Malaysia practices suppression of press freedom, then the government would almost certainly jump up with yet sillier “technicality” arguments such as: opposition parties are allowed to have their own papers and newspaper organisation are left to decide their own editorial policies.

Indeed, I would be the last to assert that Malaysia practices “press censorship” narrowly and technically defined. Technically, press censorship exists when the government stations official censors at the newspaper establishments to directly oversee the work of editors – and that does not happen in Malaysia.

But press control – and indeed effective press control at that – can be implemented by other means, such as through corporate control of newspaper publishing companies, through political participation in the appointment (and sacking) of editors, and, especially, through the “withholding of annually renewable publishing permits.”

And all these things indeed do take place in Malaysia.

With such delimiting legal parameters existing around the world of free press in this country, over the years a culture of “press unfreedom” that even some of our best journalists are unaware of have slowly but surely developed. The situation is quite akin to the situation of our students and professors being unaware of the existence of a true culture of academic and intellectual freedom different from what we have in our unfree universities.

It is this true press freedom that the Makkal Osai people have tried to practice – and had to pay with the price of their very own journalistic existence. They should have known better, and should have emulated the Utusan brand of “journalism” instead.

That unfree press culture must have permeated our journalistic world quite deeply that even our best star journalists had learned to thrive in it and live with it rather blissfully, quite unaware of the fact that they are being deprived of the very basic element of their own profession that existed in a true world of press freedom.

Some of our “star” journalists, such as A. Samad Ismail, A Kadir Jasin, Mazlan Nordin, Johan Jaaffar, Ahmad Sebi, Kalimullah, Zainuddin Maidin, and especially Wong Choon Wai, appear to have thrived, and enjoyed, performing their roles as defined by the powers that be within that unfree culture.

Said Zahari is the only journalist I know that had defied the culture, and had to pay with the best years of his life spent in incarceration.

But even these subservient journalists do not appear to really understand specifically the arbitrarily and administratively defined limits of the culture of press unfreedom. Many of them have unwittingly crossed forbidden lines and had to pay dearly with their careers being cut short.

Neither do these journalists appear to understand, let alone be committed to, the true nature of the “real” culture of press freedom. As such, whenever there are those among them who are elevated to more powerful positions – as in the case of Zainuddin Maidin who was made the Information Minister – they do not use their exalted positions to promote a true culture of press freedom, but in fact to suppress it even further.

If journalists such as Zainuddin Maidin could not be expected to have a fine understanding of the notion of “press freedom”, then what hope do we have to see the culture of press freedom to thrive under the watchful and suppressive administrative eyes of people such as Hamid Albar and Ahmad Shahbery Cheek?

As such, I would consider the na├»ve appeal of some well meaning writers to call on the government to give the Massal Okai “a second chance” as futile.

Within the existing culture of unfree press, the best hope for Makkal Osai is to acquire the services of some politically correct sponsors who would act as feelers to approach the government, with the promise that they would change their ways, to be in line with the existing culture and to behave exactly as Utusan Malaysia, The Star, New Straits Times, and others are doing.

UPDATE: Soon after the above was posted, I was rather pleasantly surprised by Hamid Albar’s policy statements and announcment of some sweeping changes on some existing policies on media freedom (See Malaysiakini: April 20.) I am, however, withholding my reaction for the moment – until I see more definitive results from the Minister’s inititives. I would initially applaud his announcements as a step in the right direction.


Anonymous said...

The spin doctors of the once known English tabloid called The People's Paper, now affectionately known as The Toilet Paper has again shown how stupid they can be in highlighting that the MPs from BN and Pakatan Rakyat have failed to submit their written questions to Parliament.

What makes me sick is that The Star seems to go out of it's way to discredit the Pakatan MP's more than the BN clowns. Why not question Pak SleepyLah as to why of all the idiot MP's in BN, why choose that oxymoron Bumb Mokhtar Rubbish as the Barisan Back Benches Club Chairman? This swine is a born idiot who could be the missing link between humans and apes that anthropologists are talking about.

It was arrogant and unrepentant oxymoron's like Bung Mokhtar Raden that caused BN to fare badly in the last GE. It amazes me to comprehend as to why Pak Kadok The PM can't see this. The likes of Bung Mokhtar is surely going to get hit in his 'Kinabatangan' by the Pakatan Rakyat MP's.

As for The Toilet Paper, let it remain as one, as it has it's pool of chief ass wipers like Wong Chun Wai, Wong Su Long, Josceline Tan, VK Chin etc. The day is at hand when the ass wipers and their masters will be flushed down the toilet bowl with the rest of the Toilet Paper. For this I saith unto them "Keris my ass!"


Samuel Goh Kim Eng said...

Just because of a little bit of din
It has been regarded as unforgivable sin
To have the whole lot thrown into a bin
With swimming banned/forbidden by removing the fin

(C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng - 200408
Sun. 20th April 2008.