On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Need for wider scope of views

The unprecedented move attracted much international media
attention as the signatures were collected within a week.

There would have been more if there was a concerted move to seek the support of
journalists from outside the Klang Valley.

The petition was drawn up by a group of concerned newsmen and it did not
involve the National Union of Journalists or the National Press Club.

The memorandum called for the Act to be repealed because it "encourages
self-censorship in the newsroom as publishers are forced to apply for their
licences annually and are further subjected to the arbitrary powers of the Home

Journalists, whether they are from Malaysia or elsewhere, are always concerned
with their credibility.

In Malaysia, the mainstream newspapers are sensitive to criticism that they
give too much coverage to the Government.

Defensive editors, in arguing their case, often say that is because out of the
192 MPs in Parliament, only 43 are from the opposition.

The majority, they argue, certainly deserves more editorial space in their

Whether or not their argument has any basis is debatable but the fact is that
you certainly cannot even find a filler about Britain's Socialist Party or the
Liberatarian Party of the US in western newspapers.

But public perception is important. If Malaysians think their newspapers are
unfair, publishers and journalists ought to listen to what their readers have
to say.

More than that, readers now have a choice. They have the Internet, the smaller
newspapers and the foreign publications.

It is important that Abdullah and Acting Umno Youth Datuk Hishamuddin Tun
Hussein have responded positively to the petition.

Hishamuddin echoed the Malaysian newsmen's concern, saying Umno Youth was
willing to help in the comprehensive review of laws governing freedom of speech
in the country.

Restrictive laws won't help the newspapers, the readers or the Government in
the coming years. In fact, even now.

It will be impossible to shut the plethora of views from the Internet and other
media technologies.

For example, instead of blocking the mass of information, particularly
information from the western media, we must insist on putting across our views.
We must state our point.

Countries that block information will eventually lose out. Clear, consistent
and moderate view points will always win finally.

A cacophony of voices with different messages does no harm, if they are not
libellous or inflammatory, as people will always be able to differentiate right
and wrong.

It is more effective to meet the information flood in an intelligent style and
persuasion is almost certain to be the order of the day for politicians of

Young Malaysians would want to hear good views and they will know what has been
misrepresented and exaggerated.

But it wouldn't be just the politicians. The Malaysian media will have to
consistently play that role too.

Malaysians will always be different from the Westerners. Not many, for example,
will want the Malaysian press to emulate their British counterpart by
systematically tearing down the role of the monarchy.

Neither would Malaysians tolerate the paparazzi-styled journalism where the
media stalk celebraties with no regard for their right to privacy.

The British and American media, which talk so eloquently about transparency and
accountability, openly practise cheque-book journalism.

Neither do they have any respect for accuracy with their brand of journalism,
where reporters pass off personal prejudices as facts in their stories.

On that score, many Malaysians are unlikely to share the views of the New
York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which put Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir
Mohamad on its worldwide list of top 10 "enemies of the press."

It is sheer rubbish. The Malaysian media may be guilty of self-censorship but
no Malaysian journalist has been jailed for their views.

And we must recognise, even with the Act, it is no longer difficult to obtain a
permit to start a publication.

For that matter, even Harakah, supposedly restricted to members, is openly on
sale to the public. An oppressive government certainly would not allow

Hishamuddin has acknowleged that the most of the Malaysian journalists are fair
and responsible.

It might not be possible to remove the relevant laws affecting the media
overnight and the media should not have any pretentions about that.

Support from both sides, the Government and Opposition, is necessary to make
changes to improve the quality of journalism.

The first step could, perhaps, be the setting up of a media council, as
proposed by Senator Datuk Zainuddin Maidin, a veteran journalist.

The council could act as a watchdog for both the journalists and public to
register their views on issues relating to the media.

The proposed council, comprising eminent personalities and veteran journalists,
would also be able to monitor the reports of the foreign media.

In the final analysis, the direction of such a proposal is to improve the flow
of information and its availability to all Malaysians.

Politics should be the last criteria for the setting up of this media