Home TA Online 2015 TA Online Malaysian press freedom

Malaysian press freedom

Police and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) officials recently raided The Malaysian Insider office and arrested three editors, the chief executive and the publisher - Photograph: The Malaysian Insider

Join us on Telegram and Instagram for the latest.

The government has much more challenging and important work to do than try to muzzle a few journalists just doing their jobs, says John W English.

It totally baffles me that governing officials in Malaysia are convinced that arresting journalists, including an editorial cartoonist, is an effective way to prevent terrorism.

In this smartphone-internet era, almost everyone is now a citizen journalist armed with a mobile device that shoots photos and video. The mass exchange of ideas and information from peer to peer is the current equivalent of publication. It’s simply delusional to think that repressing a few media employees who have views different from the government’s will alter the complex contemporary media landscape one little bit.

Society is so wholly interactive now that the old top-down system is gone forever. Lee Kuan Yew’s model of press repression may have worked a half century ago, but it’s laughably antiquated in today’s global digital network.

The government reveals its insecurity and ineptitude by trying to squelch opposing viewpoints, labelling them seditious. That’s pure paranoia. Ridiculously ineffectual.

Instead, it should ramp up its own communications to compete in the marketplace of ideas. What’s needed is more, open discussion of issues. More dialogue between the government and the governed. Officials should explain and defend their positions, but also listen and learn from public discourse. Officials have to ‘sell’ their ideas to the electorate. They should eagerly criticise and challenge opponents. If it’s not possible to shape opinion, take the high road by agreeing to disagree. Unpopular ideas should be revised or shelved. Putting opponents in jail is a symbol of failure. It’s a big black eye in the world arena.

READ MORE:  Berhenti mengganggu para aktivis dan fokus pada krisis kesihatan

Effective governing is a give-and-take process. Officials who are passionate about their views have to be persuasive spokesmen for them. They also must be engaged listeners and willing to respond to citizens.

In a democratic society, every citizen has a vote, so ideally will participate in creating a collective destiny. From my long association with Malaysia — I served in the first group of US Peace Corps Volunteers more than 50 years ago — I am convinced that Malaysians of all stripes are loyalists and are united in the shared objective of advancing the country. The pace of development alone proves that point.

I’m old enough to remember the affable founding PM Tunku Abdul Rahman, who used the press effectively. In his regular column for The Star, the beloved Tunku mused on all sorts of concerns, many public, some personal. He stirred public dialogue and endeared himself to everyone, earning his tag Bapa Malaysia.

Similarly, the lovable local cartoonist Lat regularly commented on hot political issues as he tweaked the powerful. At the time, it was widely accepted that satire and pungent humour were a cartoonist’s arsenal. Lat’s views were never considered treasonous because he was, after all, a “kampong boy”.

My point is that a democracy thrives when the public forum is broad, deep and intense. That means that all views should be respected. Opposition views often produce a synthesis that is better than either side. Citizens are considerably more likely to accept a government policy, if the government explains it thoroughly. In short, the government has much more challenging and important work to do than try to muzzle a few journalists just doing their jobs.

READ MORE:  Tindakan dua pemimpin Pas 'asak' wartawan dikecam

Dr John W English is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the University of Georgia and earlier served as Visiting Prof Madya at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x