Fresh hope for press freedom

Opinion  |  Dean Johns
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Let’s hope that Pakatan Harapan turns out to be true to its name and that its recent crushing victory over Malaysia’s seemingly endlessly-ruling and increasingly corrupt and repressive Umno/BN regime really does presage the kind of true freedom of the press that Malaysiakini and a few other news portals have so fearlessly pioneered.

Because such progress would not only be a boon to the Malaysian people, officially deprived of truth and transparency as they’ve been for decades, but would also provide a sorely-needed confidence-boost to all those of us concerned about press freedom everywhere.

Not that I’m one of the doomsayers claiming that press freedom is in its death-throes due to the destructive efforts of everyone, from Donald ‘Fake News’ Trump to the despotic regimes heading the countless dictatorships and fraudulent ‘democracies’ around the world.

Unlike the many pessimists currently prophesying the terminal decline or freedoom of the press, I perceive press freedom being still in its hopeful infancy.

Historically speaking, for example, in the context of the countless centuries through which humankind has existed, the printing press itself was born a mere 500 or so years ago, or relatively very recently indeed.

And only around 370 years ago, when poet John Milton published his famous 1644 pamphlet “Areopagitica, A Speech… For the Liberty of Unlicens’d Printing to the Parliament of England”, not only were there yet no newspapers as we know them, let alone all the other media invented since, but the very idea of press freedom seemed virtually unthinkable.

In fact, according to the book The Newspaper (Anthony Smith, 1979, Thames and Hudson, London), even by 1776, the year in which the American colonies that would become the US published their Declaration of Independence, no country in the world accorded its citizens the right of free publication.

It wasn’t until 1849 that John Stuart Mill could confidently write in his classic tract On Liberty that “the time, it is to be hoped, is gone by when any defence would be necessary of the ‘liberty of the press’ as one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government.”

And it was only as late as 1948 that the UN, in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, deemed it a duty incumbent on all nations to respect the right of free publication of news and opinion, in any and every medium and regardless of national borders...

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