Such behaviour towards journalists must cease – it should not be normalised as it has deep implications on the freedom of the media, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
It is most reprehensible that a group of adults in their Friday best, a number of whom are Najib Razak’s loyalists, took it upon themselves to harass two Malaysiakini journalists for merely doing their job, which is to report things happening before their very eyes.
This came about after these journalists – who, incidentally, are interns – reported on the altercation between the former prime minister’s supporters and six Universiti Malaya students, who staged a peaceful protest against Najib in the vicinity of their campus on Friday, 22 March.
It appears that the individuals did not like what they read in Malaysiakini about themselves in action. The physical and verbal abuse that the journalists reportedly encountered from the rowdy individuals concerned constitutes a threat to the former as well as a violation of press freedom. The fact that one of the journalists is female begs the question whether she was perceived as easy target for abuse by the male individuals concerned.
The Najib supporters should realise by now that in this post-9 May 2018 era, where press freedom is relatively better, truth is expected to be told – and not intimidated.
And so, if a few individuals behaved in a manner that does not conform to the conventional notion of civilised people, and hence, grabs headlines, it has to be expected that their public misconduct would have to be reported as such.
These boisterous individuals could have avoided their supposedly embarrassing misbehaviour from being reported had they ignored or allowed – even if grudgingly – the students to exercise their democratic right to protest peacefully.
To illustrate this point by using another example, if a certain menteri besar yanked out his middle finger in anger and with impunity, he couldn’t possibly expect it to be reported that the finger was congenitally stiff and, therefore, he could not be construed as being unabashedly vulgar.
For the uninitiated, in a functioning democracy, if a person is unhappy with the way he or his institution is covered in the media, he could write in to the media outlet concerned to record his protest. Or he could write a letter to explain his side of an issue that was reported. As a final resort, he could attempt to sue the media outlet and journalists concerned.
In other words, there is no necessity for him to go ballistic and intimidate journalists physically and verbally.
Besides, getting rough and menacingly abusive is not what we normally understand as freedom of expression. Neither can such misconduct enhance intellectual development in society.
It is crucial that such a negative attitude and behaviour towards journalists must cease because it cannot and should not be normalised as it has deep implications on the freedom and social responsibility of the media, occupational safety and democratic practices.
Journalists must have the space to write without fear or favour. Otherwise, a culture of self-censorship may creep deeply into their profession.
Free and responsible media would go a long way towards strengthening democracy in the country.
And just in case, if some people are unable to get the drift here, this commentary is not meant to “insult the Malays”.