In the midst of the Mahathir-Abdullah spat and consequent spin-doctoring among the journalistic fraternity in Malaysia, a commentary that condemns the latest book ban of 18 titles instituted by the Internal Security Ministry recently is indeed a welcome relief.
Writing in his regular column in the NST today (July 4) with the headline “Much ado about nothing, as the bard would say”, Syed Nadzri lamented the ban on books and strict regulation of local television, which he considers antithetical to the whole notion of “openness and transparency” as is often bandied about by the Abdullah administration.
Nadzri reminds us all of ancient China where books were burned “in intellectual cleansing exercises” as well as similar bans in Nazi Germany.
He rightfully argues that the authorities should not underestimate the intelligence and capability of ordinary Malaysians to discern the bad from the good in books and other printed material.
While we’re at it, we believe that Nadzri, who is NST deputy group editor, also ought to remind his bosses and colleagues in the upper echelons of the NST that transparency and press freedom should also be exercised by mainstream newspapers such as the NST.
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Transparency is lacking in the electronic media as well. The popular call-in programme "The Mic Is On, With Love, Without Obstacles" on state-run Chinese-language radio station Ai FM has been effectively terminated since 26 June. In the past, the programme has discussed important issues concerning civil liberties and public affairs. The last topic of discussion just before its termination was about the Education Ministry's decision to have larger classes (up to 45 pupils) in Chinese vernacular primary schools suffering from a chronic shortage of qualified teachers. (WAMI joint statement)
The marginalising of certain quarters in society – be they individuals, groups, communities or entire classes – is not only unjust but also undemocratic. Similarly, spin-doctoring in certain circumstances has the long-term effect of diminishing whatever credibility a paper may have left in the eyes of the public.