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Quenching the thirst for a new Malaysia

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It is about time that Malaysians are offered the opportunity to enjoy and indeed celebrate media diversity that caters to a wide spectrum of views in society, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

Last Wednesday, Malaysians collectively voiced their hope for a new Malaysia that could bring about a meaningful change to their lives after experiencing over the years a high cost of living, corruption, abuse of power and intimidation under the previous Barisan Nasional government.

Most people know what they want: a clean, efficient government that is transparent and accountable. But they also know what they don’t want: a corrupt, inefficient and arrogant ruling elite.

In short, they want a marked difference in life from the BN era of governance.

That is why it struck a chord among many Malaysians when Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin and Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman chastised newly minted Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian for expressing plans to deny state development funds to BN opposition members.

The voters know that they not only want good government but also a reliable and alert opposition that would provide much-needed checks and balances to keep the former on its toes.

Besides, constituencies that voted for BN should not be punished and deprived of necessary development funds (that are derived from taxpayers’ money) as happened under BN rule. The rules of the political game must be changed.
Similarly, many Malaysians sighed with relief when DAP distanced itself from its newly elected lawmaker RSN Rayer, who called for a shutdown of TV3 simply because it had demonised him.

Malaysians, to be sure, no longer fancy the idea of ruling politicians taking heavy-handed action against a media outlet just because they disagree with what was reported. There are other democratic and civilised ways of seeking redress instead of having to resort to sledgehammer action.

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That is why the anti-fake news law was heavily criticised by concerned Malaysians as it was meant to curb and criminalise criticism of the government.

This explains why Malaysians were initially rattled to hear of Dr Mahathir Mohamad wanting to keep and refine this law – but they were later assured by MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and Finance Minister-designate Lim Guan Eng that it should be repealed as it could lend itself to abuse.

It is about time that Malaysians are offered the opportunity to enjoy and indeed celebrate media diversity that caters to a wide spectrum of views in society.

It should not be assumed, as a BN minister once did, that Malaysians could get easily confused with the availability of many media outlets that produce various sorts of news and views.

Ministers and other ruling politicians should stop mocking the intelligence of ordinary Malaysians for they know when to strike back – and strike hard at that.

That is why the obnoxious Printing Presses and Publications Act must be repealed so that those who want to publish a magazine or newspaper can do so without the hassle of seeking permission from the home minister.

It is in this spirit of freedom of expression and of the press that, for instance, the application by Malaysiakini to publish a newspaper should be welcomed by all, including the government of the day.

Political parties organs should also be allowed to exist as a matter of course because these are the channels of communication that help them disseminate their ideologies and policies to their members and the general public.

READ MORE:  Piecemeal approach towards media reform leaves much to be desired

Other draconian laws that violate the spirit of freedom of expression and democracy – such as the Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act – must be repealed, or in certain cases, be properly refined to avoid possible abuse of power.

In addition, a freedom of information law should be instituted so that citizens would be able to access important information that they require for their daily existence. Such access would help ensure government transparency and accountability.

These freedoms are meant to avoid a situation where, if and when avenues to express grievances and criticism by concerned Malaysians are constrained, there would emerge a disconnect between the government and the people they rule.

It doesn’t help if certain sycophantic media constantly give undeserved glowing reports about ruling politicians and the government of the day. Neither does it help for the government to intimidate, harass and arrest those with critical voices in society.

If that happens, the ruling elite may grow less sensitive to, if not scornful of, the fact that the interests of the people, in whose name they govern, are not being duly served by the government.

It would be too late for the government of the day to fully realise their dereliction of duty on the day when the majority of the people register their consequent unhappiness and disgust through the ballot box. Last Wednesday was indeed a massive display of such displeasure.

This piece was first published by Malaysia Decides.

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.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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