On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Our laws must keep pace with the times

Topping the list must be the Printing Presses and
Publications Act, which provides the Government the power to issue, renew and
revoke the permit of any publication.

It no longer makes sense for the Government to impose such a
restriction on the press, especially the print media, when it can no longer
exert its authority on the Internet.

News is no longer only delivered via print. We have news
websites run by the mainstream press and also the alternative press. We also
have sites set up by opposition parties, groups and individuals, which carry a
variety of news and commentaries. And then we have the bloggers.

The media, as we understand it, is no longer the monopoly of

No one needs a permit to start a website or to blog. He is
free in cyberspace and with the possibility of reaching out to millions of
readers not only in the country but worldwide.

And certainly the Government will find its influence
diminishing in the coming years, as the young switch to the Internet for
information. It will no longer just be a question of an alternative news
medium, but of too much information to choose from.

Participatory journalism and politics have already begun to
make their mark in Malaysia
and it is sad if our politicians are unable to see the trend.

Young Malaysians no longer want to be told what they should
read, hear and see – they want to have a say in how a newspaper or a government
should be run.

Not only that, they want to post their comments instantly,
whether through a website or via the SMS, on issues affecting them. In the
multimedia age of podcasting, they can post sights and sounds on the Net.

Last week, the National Union of Journalists called for
greater press freedom to battle corruption and abuse of power in the country.

Its president Norila Mohd Daud said the public had a right
to know the progress of any government programme as the leaders were elected
through the democratic process to administer the country on the people's

Increasingly, Malaysians would become more demanding and
critical of the press. Rightly so, too. It is a worldwide phenomenon, where the
press is as lowly-rated as politicians.

Many see the press as part of the establishment, thereby
unwilling to challenge the elite for various reasons, including those affecting
their political and business agenda.

The mainstream media has come under fire for being
pro-establishment and at the same time, many readers find the alternative press
too self-righteous. Even as it criticises the mainstream media for lacking
objectivity, the fact is that most of the alternative press is

There are certainly more newspapers, television and radio
stations over the past decade but Malaysians have a right to question whether
the increasing numbers have made any difference in the content. For that
matter, they rightly questioned whether there has been anything refreshing.

The electronic media in Malaysia
may be faster than the print media, providing visuals that have enormous
impact, but it has been unable to discuss complex issues, especially on
politics and economics, in an intelligent manner.

In all fairness, the current leadership has provided more
democratic space to the media. Over the past two years, the press has certainly
been more critical.

The Malaysian press may not be as angry as some people want
it to be, but certainly more issues are being addressed these days. And, by
extension, more critical comments have been published.

In cases where some personalities claimed they have been
blacked out, a careful check would show that their views have actually been

Opposition figures have been invited to speak at talk shows
organised by television stations, which previously would have been unheard of.

Issues of race, religion, corruption, waste of public funds
and civil service inefficiency have come up in the open, and are more prominent
than ever.

There has been a great deal of tolerance on the part of the
administration and many Malaysian journalists appreciate this openness and have
used this window carefully, avoiding the thunder-and-lightning approach that
would otherwise jeopardise the opportunity.

We cannot expect complete changes overnight, but the
revolution, so to speak, has begun. Maybe gradually, but the pace has been much
faster than expected.

The older Malaysian editors may be more cautious, still
reluctant to take bolder steps because of their baggage of history, but the
young set of journalists would view issues differently.

Brought up in the age of information technology, they have
no regard for sacred cows. Laws which are outdated would simply become
redundant eventually.

It is like a man who refuses to change his black-and-white
television set to a colour one. It would just become useless.

Laws which are regarded as restrictive to the Malaysian
media are the same. The tools of information are changing and it is better for
the authorities to realise this trend sooner.

After all, a newspaper or other media that is perceived to
lack credibility would just lose its readership or viewership eventually.
Journalists, too, have to maintain their credibility or they, too, will be
ignored. Young Malaysians are spoilt for choice. It is time we wake up.