On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Brickbats normal part of a journalist’s life

Journalism is a tough job. I remember my editors telling
me, when I first joined The Star, to think hard whether I was committed to the
job. For sure, I would not become a rich man.

Journalists, they advised, were also not popular figures.
Politicians and officials would try to impose on, even intimidate, newsmen with
their views to suit their agenda while readers, with their broad range of
views, can never be satisfied.

I have learned that you can get e-mails and letters
heaping praises on you but would also get the same amount of replies from
people who were aghast with what you have written, especially when there are
elements of race and religion.

Over the past 20 years of my career, I have been
threatened, either verbally or in writing, simply because some people do not
agree with what I have written. This unhappy lot included those who professed
to champion the freedom of speech.

On one occasion, a prominent politician openly called me
and a colleague all kinds of names in front of an audience of thousands at a
stadium. But we have regarded such incidents as an occupational hazard.

Police reports have also been lodged and, in some
instances, the police have stepped in and even investigated. One angry reader,
who wrote a series of nasty letters, turned out to be a 65-year-old retired

The police traced him even though he hid behind a

We did not have the heart to pursue the matter and told
the police that we wanted to let the matter rest. But we told the angry reader
that we respected his right to disagree with us as we live in a democratic

That aside, journalism must be the only profession in
Malaysia where reporters have to face a slew of laws – the Printing Presses and
Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Act, to name a few
– in the course of their daily work.

So last week, the fraternity had a nasty jolt when the
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) announced that it plans to set up
a media complaints committee.

Instead of devoting its resources to helping dismantle
the laws constraining the media, Suhakam has, instead, chosen to put another
barrier on the press. The last thing we need is another monitoring body or
mechanism to watch over the press.

The Home Ministry, through its publications unit, is
already doing that. Now, we have Suhakam wanting to set up another unit to do a
similar job. Hey, we thought we were on the same side!

Suhakam commissioner Prof Datuk Hamdan Adnan, a
journalism lecturer, said there had been complaints of the media violating the
privacy of an individual or a family.

He said these complaints included those from people such
as transvestites, the disabled and orang asli who were unhappy at the way the
media has portrayed them.

A National Press Club official put it aptly: "Suhakam
shouldn't bite off more than it can chew. Suhakam already has too many issues
on its plate that remain unresolved."

The media would prefer to be self-regulating but until
some of these laws are repealed, or at least amended, there are bound to be
objections from the media over the setting up of more monitoring bodies. The
proposed Malaysian Media Council, for example, continued to be debated
precisely because of this reason.

On Aug 7, 2002,
Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman reportedly said that the commission
would recommend that the Government review laws governing press freedom as soon
as possible after examining them. Citing the laws involved, he said the
situation was now different and the relevant laws should be reviewed.

It has been more than two years since that statement.
Nobody knows whether Suhakam has managed to work out anything beyond the
rhetoric but the likelihood is that everything has remained very much the same.

The bottom line is that Suhakam has taken the job of
regulating the press without even first consulting the editors. The business of
running the press should be left to the journalists.