When journalists go it alone

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Journalism is a serious endeavour but most of the time it appears to me nobody cares. Or that not many people are truly serious about it. I am doubtful to express my true feeling about many things. "I would rather be coward than brave," prominent English novelist EM Forster once said, "because people hurt you when you are brave."

Zulkifli Sulong, editor of Harakah , is facing a serious problem with the Official Secrets Act breathing down his neck last Friday. To him, this kind of threat is not new. Just days before we celebrated World Press Freedom Day this year, he was found guilty under the Sedition Act.

Unlike other pieces of laws where brave journalists are only to be to be punished with a fine, the OSA will surely land you in jail. For a family man like Zulkifli, I can not imagine what he is thinking now.

A friend of mine on Monday suggests that, as representative of the Kumpulan Aktivis Media Independen (Kami), I should write a press release, responding to what is happening to Zulkifli. But I am hesitant weird feelings suddenly engulfed me.

When Badaruddin Ismail and I wrote 'Rahsia Kotak Ezam', a book on the OSA and freedom of information after Keadilan Youth chief Mohd Ezam Mohd Nor was found guilty in August last year, we really dug into the opposition inner circles of this 'psychological ambiguity'. I would like to be more frank but something inside me is strongly resisting the temptation.

Again, as what I had felt for Mohd Ezam, I now feel sorry for Zulkifli. It seems that a journalist has to shoulder it alone.

What is happening to him, and to Steven Gan and other malaysiakini journalists early this year for instance, reminds me of Shabry Sharif of the New Straits Times almost 20 years ago. The defence correspondent pleaded guilty to his 'crime' - having reported on financial abuses in the Defence Ministry.

I was told by a former NST journalist that Shabry was asked to plead guilty, and was later fined RM7,000. The newspaper was not interested to defend him. That was before the 1986 amendment of the OSA, so there was no provision of mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence. Luckily enough, the National Union of Journalists then took a very serious stance on this issue, and they did protest.

But I doubt that we will have this kind of campaign for Zulkifli or other journalists. Look at what happened to Ezam. In October last year, other prominent political leaders such as Abdul Hadi Awang, Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli and academic KS Jomo were all under OSA investigations. Then came the police raid on malaysiakini . Yet, we have not had any consistent, serious action.

I can't say any further. If I do, it will be like opening a Pandora's Box. The novelist Forster's words: "I'd rather be coward", are banging on my mind. And I am not talking about the cowardice in going against the repressive government.

I am afraid of being alone again, or acting on serious issues like the OSA and other media-related Acts cosmetically. From my experience of publishing 'Rahsia Kotak Ezam', plus a score of other activities since my student years, I know the pain of being alone.

"People hurt you when you are brave." The 'people', whoever the novelist meant, are ... our friends and allies.



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