2009 World Press Freedom Day this year marked in a totally different spirit from the past decade

Malaysian journalists marked the World Press Freedom Day yesterday in a totally different spirit from the past ten years, expecting the worst in the coming year when they had hoped for better times in the past decade.

Ten years ago, when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was first appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, there were high hopes that he would accord priority to restore public confidence in various key government institutions by giving the Home Ministry a human face, including loosening up and removing the press controls in the country to usher in an era of free, fair and responsible press in Malaysia.

This was why on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 1999, some 600 journalists in Malaysia – which grew to over 1,000 journalists the following World Press Freedom Day 2000 – presented a memorandum to Abdullah calling for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and other repressive laws fettering the development of a free and responsible press.

Although Abdullah had given a solemn undertaking to the Malaysian journalists at the time that he would give their memorandum serious consideration, nothing was achieved in the five years and five months of his premiership in reforming or repealing the most repressive and draconian press laws and regulations.

When Abdullah was forced out as the shortest-serving Prime Minister early last month, the repressive and draconian press laws he had inherited from the era of Mahathirism remain intact, although they were more sparingly used as to allow for some opening up of media space in the Abdullah premiership.

It was most ominous that the new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak chose to ignore the World Press Freedom Day, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1991 as a day “to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom”, recognizing that press freedom is “a cornerstone of human rights and a guarantee of other freedoms”.

Why didn’t Najib make a speech or issue a message coinciding with the World Press Freedom Day to underline his commitment to “a vibrant, free and informed media” which Najib had publicly pledged in his first few days as Prime Minister?

The answer is quite simple – a cold wintry wind is blowing through the country’s newsrooms, marking the return of Mahathirism with the control freaks back in place to pull the levers of power to manipulate the media and the flow of information to Malaysians.

Nobody was surprised when on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the Malaysian Insider carried a report “Umno reins in its media”, with the following opening paragraphs:

KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Headlines are being scrutinised. Captions are being commented on. The space for alternative views is shrinking.

Instructions are flowing from Putrajaya, not necessarily from the Prime Minister but from individuals who claim they are empowered to speak on his behalf.

The nett result: the mood in newsrooms across the country has become more cautious and editors more wary of pushing the envelope since Datuk Seri Najib Razak became the chief executive of Malaysia.

Last year, Malaysia fell to its lowest ranking since the start of the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) worldwide press freedom index, dropping to 132nd position in 2008, the worst in the past seven years, viz:

Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index

2008 – 132 (out of 173 countries)
2007 – 124
2006 – 92
2005 – 113
2004 – 122
2003 – 104
2002 – 110 (out of 139 countries)

Is Malaysia heading towards an even lower ranking in the RSF worldwide press freedom index in the Najib years with the return of Mahathrism?

Mahathir was named by RSF as one of the “predators” of the press in the world for the media censorship he exercised as Prime Minister. Abdullah was never named to this category. Will Najib join Mahathir’s infamous company if the Prime Minister allows a return of Mahathirism particularly in media policies?

  1. #1 by k1980 on Monday, 4 May 2009 - 1:19 pm

    Press freedom? Yeah, press the freedom, that isfreak d, the freedom is pressed out from the mass media.

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Monday, 4 May 2009 - 1:35 pm

    It looks as if Najib is following in Abdullah’s footsteps promising media reform but without tangible action.

    With the return of Mahathirism the future of Malaysian press looks bleak.

  3. #3 by taiking on Monday, 4 May 2009 - 2:05 pm

    “I hereby declare the media free. I also declare that the media shall forthwith be at liberty to report on any issue or matter that is of general and or public interests. Following the foregoing declaration, I now further declare that the media shall also be at liberty to analyse any such issue or matter and to make any observation and to draw any conclusion therefrom and then to publish them for the public’s reading or benefit.”

    That is my declaration. Its cheap. Try it yourself. If you are on broadband, I suppose you will not incur anything by way of additional costs or expenses in making the declaration. Trust me.

  4. #4 by frankyapp on Monday, 4 May 2009 - 5:56 pm

    Hey guys,What’s press freedom in Malaysia ? Do you guys really and honestly think you will have it under Umno/Bn ?.You guys are still in \Bolehland\ should you think so.It’s time to wake up and face reality.Under Umno/Bn the implemention of many important social,political and economic developments/projects are hidden away from the rakyat.Some are dimly lighted just to please the opposition and the whole world.In another word,there’s no transparency,no accountability and you guys know why ?. It’s because the Umno/Bn government/leaders are involved in corruption.Don’t be naive guys,should you involve in corruption,would you tell YB lim kit Siang,or YB Karpal Singh about it ?.This is precisely why {1} Umno/Bn leaders bought and control most local press or newspaper firms {2} hold on to the printing acts and {3}warming and preventing foriegn press to attend sensitive issues/meetings or gatherings.

  5. #5 by lopez on Monday, 4 May 2009 - 6:59 pm

    GET dtk lioa in here immediately….

    After cutting the umblical cords, cut the tongue , remember this or else…you are fired

    do you un_der_ stand , laio boy, … if you dont please wink your eye,

    if the writings get out of hand …rasi….use plan B, cut them fingers off….
    did you hear that ….liao boy

    now go bring back the chinese votes

  6. #6 by taiking on Tuesday, 5 May 2009 - 9:16 am

    At least badawi was more tolerant of dissents. 988 radio station entertained call-in by the public to complain about government departments and to discuss current issues. In the papers we can see faces of pakatan members regularly and news about them and their activities. Now they only cover LKS, Karpal and Anwar and even then only the negetive bits about them.

    Its a major all out smearing campaign cum black out they are mounting against the pakatan. This is 1malaysia to najib. The one dark malaysia. At least in darkness everyone would more or less lose the colour of their skin and turn incognito!

    How on earth could the media allow this? Everyone who is in the business of providing services would be eager to know their performance. They want feed-back – good or bad. They basically want to know their weaknesses so that they can improve on them. That is so basic and fundamental.

    And the government of a country is no different. In fact they have an extra reason to be interested. They want to be sure that after the next election, they will still be around to govern. How do they know whether their are doing a good job? By allowing and listening to dissents of course.

    Voters would and do grade the government’s performance and the only channel through which they could do so is the media. I am of the opinion that najib’s smile is artificial and his cheeks are stiff. My opinion may carry little or no weight. But if he is bothered then he could make an effort to smile properly. This is a simple illustration to show the usefulness of listening to others.

    But umno does not want to know. Umno does not want to listen. They obviously thought that they do not need to know. They only have themselves to kick for keeping themselves in the dark. The media black out vis-a-vis pakatan actually cuts both ways. In fact it cuts the ruling party deeper. Not having had the habit or practice of listening to dissenting voices, Umno actually became intollerant of them – when they should be valuing them. On top of being ignorant of the public’s perception of them, rumours about the government would thrive. All news about the umno government would be viewed by the public through a negative filter. And their efforts in smearing pakatan through the media would not work because the public will disbelieve them.

    Media black-out is out-dated. Way way out-dated. And it is sad that in this country such out-dated idea is being brought back to active use. It shows one thing: Umno is way way way out-dated. Or are they desperate? fearful of their position? After decades of mismanagement, abuse and corruption, they have good reasons to be desperate and fearful.

  7. #7 by Joshua Tan Kok Hauw on Wednesday, 6 May 2009 - 1:23 pm

    Only a government without confidence in itself is afraid of media freedom.

    Media freedom is a must and must be safeguarded by the Federal Constitution instead of the empty promises made by politico.

    If our mainstream media are trustworthy there will not be so much rumours and hearsay.

    If the leaders rely on traditional and mainstream media, how can the leaders hear the problems of its people. How can all the different races in this beautiful country know more about each other.

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