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Forum: Gov't shackles mean no 'Merdeka' for Malaysian media

Direct interference by the government and indirect pressure it applies via twisting the arms of media owners, are adversely affecting the rakyat's right to be informed, say press freedom activists.

Veteran journalist A Kadir Jasin said that while the rakyat had access to sophisticated technologies, they were very backward when it came to being informed and given access to unbiased news.

"Technologically speaking we are advanced... but in another aspect, we live in fear, we are not moving forward but regressing backwards.

"We (journalists) are becoming more fearful of the leadership. We are being 'forced' to be 'loyal'.

"I think those that want to be reporters must remember, that no matter how great the control media owners have over us, we still have a responsibility to inform the public," he said at a forum today.

This, he said, was in the face of those elected to represent the people, but when it came to enacting laws on the media, they ending up siding with those in power instead.

"We have less and less accountability these days, where we have a 'free' society without rights and we are still being oppressed by those who are supposed to represent us. Elected representatives should represent us, not the (powers that be).

"Elected representatives should view the law from the aspect of the electorate as their stakeholders. Though that is not where the weight is now," he said.

Kadir was speaking at a forum titled "Merdekakah Media Kita" (Is our media free), organised by Malay daily Sinar Harian at the Selangor University (Unisel).

Others in the lineup were Projek MMO chief editor Fathi Aris Omar, media activist Gayathry Venkiteswaran and Unisel Communications, Visual Arts and Computer Studies faculty dean Prof Dr Azmuddin Ibrahim.

For Fathi, the present system, including institutions in the country, needed to be changed if Malaysia was ever going to have a truly free press.

He tied this in context to news portal Malaysiakini which has been continuously denied the right to go into print, despite winning its legal battles in court over the matter.

"The system must change. For if the institutions are not compromised, the media will not be oppressed, shackled and derided by the powers that be.

"We must ensure that the laws protect media freedom. We are at war with the laws that oppresses us," he told the 300-strong audience.

Fathi, who is also a spokesperson for media freedom advocacy group Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm), said that the responsibility to free the media from being enslaved to the powers that be lied not only with journalists, but society as a whole too.

"Media freedom cannot be only pursued by journalists and editors, as the basic building blocks of any media also includes its supporters and readers. The media is an organ, society is the body..."

Gayathry said that the media in Malaysia was not truly merdeka (independent) because of restrictions placed on the press.

"In the Malaysian context, we always hear that we have freedom, 'but' with restrictions. We must stop justifying why the media needs restrictions.

"The framework for media freedom is there. But we are certainly not free as long as the 'but' exists," she said, adding that more engagements like this forum were needed to stoke the fires of media freedom.

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