The approval of the permit for Suara Keadilan and the lifting of the suspension of Makkal Osai by the Home Ministry recently are hopefully positive signs for more press freedom in the country. If so, they indicate a more liberal attitude of the government to the media in general which is good for the country. Press freedom is essential to provide a check and balance on the government.
In this regards it is time for a review of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) to make it sufficient for a publication to obtain its license only once upon application and do away with the yearly renewal of its permit, allowing it to continue publication without interruption unless it seriously breaches any governing laws.
Political parties should be allowed to have their own newspapers, but it is more important for the main stream media not be owned or controlled by any political party. The mainstream media used to be, and is, to a great extent the media of the masses. They should be allowed to be truly independent so as to enable them to be run professionally and ethically without undue harassment by their political masters.
This will allow them to report based on real facts and not be lopsided, favouring a particular party. The mainstream media should be not just a one-way channel for the government to get its message across to the people but it should also be an important channel for the people to provide their ideas and feedback to the government. This feedback, especially the critical ones, should be encouraged so that the government is kept aware of its shortcomings and on the real sentiments of the people.
The government can have all the sophisticated statistical indices to measure its successes but the most important is the satisfaction of the people and the best way to gauge that is through feedback from the people themselves. The mainstream media should play its rightful role in transmitting the true feelings of the people without bias. It should be accurate, fair and responsible in its reporting in keeping with the ethics of journalism.
With the tremendous advancements in information and communication technology, the people today readily have the access to alternate media such as the Internet, e-mails, blogs and Short Messaging Services (SMSes). These are not only cheap but dissemination of information through them is almost instant. We have reached a stage where we can contact anybody at anytime without any hassle.
These alternate means of communications have become the more important means of obtaining news for the younger generation and it is going to replace the mainstream media as the provider of accurate and unbiased information if the latter do not rise up to their expectations.
The government should not exert absolute and indiscriminate control over the media, mainstream or alternate, but use them positively so that all citizens can utilise them as channels to contribute their ideas and feedback that are so essential to nation-building.