Khoo Ying Hooi
The Malaysian Insider
27 July 2015
There is a saying that in war, truth is the first casualty.
No one expects journalists to risk their lives for a story. Yet, if the media constantly come under attack, we risk an information crisis.
Media, also popularly known as the fourth estate, can influence public opinion and shape policy direction.
It is a double-edged sword especially for politicians. It can help one to get unconditional publicity, at the same time it could also ruin a politician’s life.
Last week we were slammed with news of the three-month suspension on The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily beginning today (July 27), just few days after the authorities blocked access to Sarawak Report that has been extensively covering the 1MDB controversy.
According to the suspension order by the Home Ministry, the two publications’ reportage of 1MDB was “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.
The move not only triggered uproar among the citizens, it also has a chilling effect on the media landscape as a whole.
In our national report submitted for the second review of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2013, it is stated that, “The administration led by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak who was recently reelected during Malaysia’s 13th General Election on 5 May 2013 has and continues to be characterised by among others, a strong commitment to the rule of law, to upholding respect for human rights, and a commitment to continue widening the democratic space initiated during previous administrations.”
Press freedom in Malaysia is guaranteed by the constitution. Yet the media is by no means free from political interferences. Restrictive laws often on national security grounds are constantly targetted against the press.
The dream that the information age would provide greater space for critical discourse remains a fantasy, as governments feel threatened by aggressive media.
Globally, Malaysia’s low ranking, when it comes to press freedom, is no secret.
Take the world press freedom index issued by the Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), for example. Malaysia ranked 147th in the latest index, remaining in the same position last year.
In 2013, Malaysia ranked 145, a major drop from its ranking of 122 in 2012.
In the Press Freedom Report 2014 issued by Freedom House, Malaysia achieved a press freedom score of 65 and is categorised as “not free”, standing in the same spot with countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.
Open debate, discourse, criticism and dissent are some fundamental components in the process of creating an informed community. These processes are particularly essential in forming policies to find solutions to social, economic and political problems.
But in reality, these basic tenets such as freedom of the media and freedom of expression are absent.
Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, in their 2007 paper “Silencing Dissent”, argued: “States that establish restrictive media environments aim to suppress dissent and to provide positive messages about the regime, rallying support for the authorities, as well as generating more feelings of patriotism and spreading ideological values favorable to the regime.
“If state control succeeds in its objectives, we would expect regular exposure to the news media to generate relatively high levels of confidence in the authorities, encouraging relatively negative attitudes towards democratic values and reinforcing feelings of nationalism. This is the sector of the mass media where the state usually exercises the greatest control.”
Much of the criticism stems from the current administration’s aggressive prosecution of leakers of information.
Norris and Inglehart’s statement explained aptly why states resort to suppressing media. What it implies is that at the end of the day, the government’s hostility to dissent is only spreading dissent more widely. – July 27, 2015.