To make media politic-free

I found an interesting commentary on the Sun today. An article which I believe all the politicians out there should read, and think about. Press freedom is no longer what it was anymore. It used to be just issues on whether the press had been reporting as objectively as they could, or if they were being government mouth-pieces, or if they were being downright rude and unfair to the opposition.

The state of media and the press today extends beyond that. How politically free the media is can make or break a political party. And we have seen that happen. It was because the media was NOT politically free, that’s why they were shunned and boycotted. And the political parties that they “represented” in a way, have suffered.

Had the press been politically freer, would there had been a difference in the outcome? We wouldn’t know. But there were people who decided to mark the “X” in the box that wasn’t next to something blue, only because they were sick and tired of what they could see in the newspapers and televisions.

Now, after the “tsunami” on March 8, media freedom is being hotly debated.

Race to free the media
Wong Chin Huat

IF there is one single law that should bear the responsibility for Barisan Nasional’s (BN) electoral setback on March 8, it is the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

Why was BN’s well-oiled machine not aware of and unable to respond effectively to the heightened public discontent over various issues from the economy and crime to ethnic relations?

Media monopoly. Media censorship. Because entry to and existence in the market are conditioned on BN-friendliness, the mainstream media led the coalition’s top leadership to believe in their own propaganda but alienated most of their readers and audience. In the print media, the key weapon of such media control was none other than the PPPA.

The use of PPPA to control media was characteristic of Mahathir’s era. The strongman prime minister closed down three newspapers – The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan – during the Operasi Lalang in 1987 when he was embattled both within and outside his party.

The rejection of Makkal Osai’s application for its 2008 publication permit was therefore bizarre when PM Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi just embarked on a key de-Mahathirisation measure – redeeming the damage of the 1988 Judiciary Crisis which followed Operasi Lalang. (Makkal Osai’s permit was renewed last Thursday and it resumed publication on April 26). As human rights lawyer Malik Imtiaz asked aptly: Reform? What Reform?

Perhaps due to the public outcry on Makkal Osai, in a round-about-turn fashion, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar now talks about the need to review PPPA.

If the Prime Minister and the Home Minister are sincerely interested in media law reform, they should heed the demand of civil society on the World Press Freedom Day (May 3) in 2006: set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to comprehensively study media law reforms.

In other words, not only does the purpose and function of PPPA need to be thoroughly investigated, so do those of the Sedition Act (seditious publications), Internal Security Act (subversive documents) and Official Secrets Act.

And media laws reform must be made one of the top priorities in the renewed deMahathirisation drive alongside the reforms of the judiciary, electoral system and process, ACA, police and other institutions.

BN had kicked the ball into its own goal by initially rejecting Makkal Osai’s appeal to renew its permit, although it subsequently granted the licence. It should now set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to redeem its record.

The formation of a caucus for freedom of expression and freedom of information by eight PR parliamentarians, which can be the push factor for the Select Committee to be established, is a brilliant strike on the opposition’s side.

But the PR can and must do more than just that. The five state governments hold the key to effectively dismantle the core of PPPA by exploiting the loopholes.

They could have easily come to rescue Makkal Osai the very next day when it was told its permit would not be renewed by offering to publish the newspaper free from any permit requirement.

One of PPPA’s Achilles’ heels lies in its Section 25(1) which states: “Nothing in this Act shall extend to the publication or making of any documents or periodical by or for the Federal or any State Government or any statutory body.”

Clearly, the provision was not drafted for the possibility of state governments that would love free press more than the federal government does.

Full article here. I really recommend reading the full thing. It’s quite informative.

And as I said, politicians from both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat should read it too.



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