Syabas, Hatta, for standing up for press freedom

by Thomas Lee
22nd Sept. 2010

I wish to commend and congratulate the newly-elected National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president Hatta Wahari for making a bold and brave stand in defence of press freedom. It has been a long time since any leader of the NUJ has stuck his or her neck out to speak out against the abuse and exploitation of the media, especially in the mainstream newspapers.

In an interview with Malaysiakini, Hatta blamed the top editors of Utusan Malaysia for the daily’s frequent confrontation with politicians.

According to the senior journalist at Utusan, the conflicts are between Utusan chief editor Aziz Ishak, supported by the senior editors, against the politicians from both the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat.

Hatta said it is unfair to fault the newspaper company per se with the alleged manipulation of its paper’s content by the editors with vested political interest.

He said there are many Utusan journalists, photographers, graphic artists and other staff members who do not agree with the agenda of the editors, but are powerless to do anything.

Obviously these lower-ranking journalists and staff members do not have any say in the decision-making process of the newspaper, let alone criticize or challenge the chief editor and senior editors on their political slant.

Hatta said the NUJ feels that the Utusan chief editor and senior editors do not advocate or practise press freedom, but merely take care of the interest of their political masters.

He said the public and politicians should not direct their anger at the newspaper company, but should take to task the chief editor for the controversial reports published by the newspaper.

“The chief editor determines the agenda, news and opinions which are published by Utusan and should be held fully responsibility for any negative elements, complaints and discontent hurled at the daily,” he said.

Hatta also pointed out that at stake is the rice bowl of the estimated 1,000 Utusan employees and their family members, in subtle reference to the daily’s gradually declining circulation figures.

Many people and opposition political leaders have been condemning the Utusan for its racial slants and heavily skewed reporting towards its owner Umno.

Hatta certainly deserves our accolade and support for speaking out, without fear or favour, on the very fundamental matter of press freedom, despite the very real risk of jeopardizing his career.

An outspoken and crusading journalist is usually a marked person, and a file will be opened to record every little mistake he makes, to build a case against him. He will be lucky if there are no trumped-up charges like sexual harassment, etc to get rid of him.

I doubt there are many editors and journalists who are prepared to stand up and be counted for truth, righteousness, justice, freedom, fairness, equality, and human rights. The cost is certainly very high, and the price for the sacrifice includes being sidelined for promotion, and alienated to insignificant positions and tasks.

I have worked as a journalist and editor in the mainstream news media since 1975, in the now defunct National Echo, the New Straits Times, Malay Mail, The Sun, and The Star, and had also served as the NUJ secretary-general in the late 1970s.

Throughout the 35 years in the newspaper industry, I have worked with all sorts of editors and journalists, and have identified five types of journalists in the media community.

First, there are the EEs — Editorial Eunuchs, who take orders from their political emperors and write and spin stories to promote the emperor’s cause. These political appointees are usually in top and senior positions, not because they are good journalists or great writers, but because of their connection to powerful political godfathers. They are first class cronies. Many are ghost writers for their political masters. Some are made Datuks or given various civil awards. Several have become millionaires.

I thank God that, except for one or two cases, the editors I had worked with are not such people. I can vouch that people like P.C. Liew, Ng Poh Tip, Michael Aeria, Wong Sulong and Wong Chun Wai are good people of principle and top class journalists, not EEs. My good friend Chong Cheng Hai, the managing editor of The Sun, is another person of integrity.

Secondly, there are the PPs — Press Prostitutes, who have sold their souls and principles to gain favours and privileges from their political and/or business clients. They will write what pleases their political masters. The amount of hampers and gifts they receive during festive seasons is perhaps a good indication of their rising status in their media organization. (Perhaps the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission should consider looking at this practice of giving editors hampers, gifts and big fat ang pows during festive seasons).

Thirdly, there are the MMs — Media Marionettes, the puppets who have no brains but are used and abused by opportunists to advance their own political or business agenda. The manipulative opportunists usually feed such journalists with twisted information and deceive these gullible writers to propagate their schemes of things. Our education system has produced many such gullible, unthinking, uncritical, and dumb people; and some of them are found in the media organizations.

Fourth, there are the JJs — Junket Journalists, those who will write anything for the sponsors of their overseas trips. Let me illustrate how some big corporate companies use such overseas junkets to bribe editors and journalists to do their biding. Company A has a product which the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) considers harmful to the people. The CAP keeps issuing press statements on its research on the harmful product and the newspapers keep publishing the statements. Company A wants to put a stop to such bad publicity of its product. So, it organized a week-long trip for senior editors to visit the product’s factory in Japan. Everything was paid for and provided for, including pocket money for shopping. The editors had a thoroughly good time. On their return, they repaid their wonderful host by stopping all negative reports on its product.

Finally, there are the WWs — Wise Writers, the rare breed who know how to survive through the controlled press situation and get their honest views into print without rousing the suspicion of their media bosses, who are usually political cronies. There are very few such honest writers with integrity and principles, and they are usually not in positions of power.

I believe that Hatta as the NUJ president can contribute significantly to preserve, promote and advance press freedom in Malaysia. My hope is that the other members of the NUJ executive council, and all NUJ members will mobilize under Hatta’s leadership to fight for press freedom to flourish in Malaysia.

For a start, Hatta and the NUJ should launch a campaign to get the federal government to repeal or amend the oppressive anti-press laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act with its mandatory jail term, Sedition Act, and other related rules and regulations curbing press freedom.

How can we expect to have OneMalaysia when we do not really have a free and credible press?

If Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is truly sincere in wanting to take the country to greater heights as OneMalaysia, then the first thing he needs to do is to liberate the press by abolishing the oppressive legal restraints, and enact a Freedom of Information Act. Then, he must revamp the whole administration system to get rid of those known to be corrupt, racist, and incompetent. Most importantly, there must be reform in the judiciary, enforcement agencies, and the election commission. Local council elections should be reinstated.

OneMalaysia? It will remain a slogan and a dream if the current federal government does not take concrete actions to reform the whole political and administrative environment in the country. And the first thing Najib must do is to remove the unjust oppressive laws and crack the whip on those in his party Umno and in the civil service who propagate and promote racism.

If the Barisan Nasional administration is unable to bring about such reforms, then we must throw it out at the next general election.

  1. #1 by Godfather on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 - 9:33 pm

    Wong Chun Wai is an editorial eunuch. Thomas Lee must have been asleep for the past 3 years.

  2. #2 by Godfather on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 - 9:34 pm

    And Rocky Bru, Athiruddin Atan, is a cross between a PP and an MM. That’s why he was made chief editor of the Malay Mail.

  3. #3 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 - 10:50 pm

    Journalistic eunuchs or sleeping zombies, most mainstream media writers have so little to offer; nothing so insightful, ususally bland, insipid rehash of coffeeshop banter.

    Sorry, they have so much to learn still but some like Chun Wai is already close to retirement, so it is almost too late to rejuvenate himself and be of any earthly use.

    Maybe, just maybe, he may still be able to expunge his journalistic sins with some conscience-cleansing write-ups of what could be justifiably called truthful journalism. So spill the beans and tell it like it is. I mean, you can’t sugar-coat and butter things all the time. If soi lek messes around, an expose would put him in his place, Star or no star.

  4. #4 by Taxidriver on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 12:07 am

    I doubt Mr. Hatta Wahari can achieve much in his fight for Press Freedom in Bolehland given the fact that our main stream media such as Stars, NST, UM, Sinchew Daily, BH……. they are owned by crooked ruling political parties.

    Wait until PR take over the government and pass a Law forbidding interested parties to have stakes in Newspaper companies.

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 12:35 am

    ///Wait until PR take over the government and pass a Law forbidding interested parties to have stakes in Newspaper companies./// – Taxidriver

    That won’t solve the problem because political parties can bribe the newspaper companies to do things for them.

  6. #6 by frankyapp on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 12:55 am

    First get rid of the printing and publishing act,this is the enemy of press freedom. MSM owners or major share holders need to keep their rice bowl and hence instructed its chief editors and senior editor to toll along the line of the regime in power. Failing which they would be fired. This is pretty true for some independence newspapers. However for those under the control of political parties in power,these editors have no choice but to listen to their bosses.Hence nothing will change for the better,instead it will definitely gets worse as those political masters need to intensify their attack on the opposition as it’s the best way to reaching the vast majority of the people both in the urban,sub-urban and rural areas where the majority of the people are malays and bumis.

  7. #7 by Comrade on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 1:07 am

    More and more people are expressing disgust
    At BN for power abuse at every said institution
    Therefore throw BN/UMNO out we really must
    And vote in PR to give us better administration

  8. #8 by boh-liao on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 1:23 am

    Many msm editors r TT (treacherous traitors)
    Dishonest n sold their souls 2 d devils, spreading lies n causing d nation 2 b raped by their evil political masters

  9. #9 by boh-liao on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 1:59 am

    SYABAS n heartiest congratulations 2 our squash queen NICOL DAVID 4 equaling Australia’s Sarah Fitz-Gerard’s record of five World Open titles

  10. #10 by wanderer on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 7:51 am

    “Where have all the flowers gone?”… be UMNO mouth pieces. Who do we blame? Ourselves! who have voted in these ketuanan scumbags and eunuch beggars into power for umpteen years…..
    It is obvious what is needed to rectify this sad situation, just vote out these corrupted and the lowest of the low lives for good!…no guts, no glory.

  11. #11 by DAP man on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 8:20 am

    When the chosen people call you “pendatang”, “balik Cina”, “keling” “no church play”, “no mention of Allah”, “respect our sensitivities” or carry the cow head, or snatch dead bodies, its polarity.

    When the pendatang ask for equal rights, or respect Article 153 or remove discounts for high end houses its problem.

    So the problems come from the pendatangs.

  12. #12 by dagen on Thursday, 23 September 2010 - 8:46 am

    Press freedom? Go. Have a look at taiwan.

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