Sin Chew Daily
The United Nation General Assembly declared May 3 as the World Press Freedom Day in 1991 to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right of freedom of expression.
On this day over the past 19 years, the world's members of the media had reaffirmed the basic principles of the freedom of the press, expressed their determination in defending the freedom of the press, and even paid the highest respect and remembrance to those who have lost their lives in harness.
In Malaysia, we must use the opportunity to reflect and repeatedly ask ourselves: Do we enjoy the freedom of press?
Unfortunately, pressmen were violently treated during the recent Bersih 3.0 rally. Some of them were assaulted and injured, some of them had their cameras snatched and some of them had their photos deleted. That day is undoubtedly the darkest and ugliest day in the media history of Malaysia!
Unfortunately, such an incident infringing the freedom of the press took place less than a month after the Printing Presses and Publications (Amendment) Bill 2012 was passed in the Dewan Rakyat!
Unfortunately, the incident showing our backsliding freedom of the press happened less than three months after Malaysia was reported to have moved up to the 122nd place from the 144th place in the Press Freedom Index 2011/2012 compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Unfortunately, the RSF pointed out in the report that although there is an improvement to the freedom of the press in Malaysia, they are still not optimistic about it. Sadly, the "prophecy" has actually come true!
The freedom of the press is one of the criteria to test democratic politics. As members of the media, we have to admit that the freedom of the press that we are having in Malaysia today is still having many serious deficiencies. There are sill various kinds of laws to suppress the freedom of expression. As a result, the media have been struggling in playing the sacred role of the Fourth Estate to supervise the government, push reforms and promote social progress.
Although the freedom of the press in Malaysia has been slightly opened and improved, the openness is limited while the improvement is slow. It is because, there are still many so-called taboos that must not be touched, and many so-called sensitive boundaries that must not be crossed over. The Printing Presses and Publications (Amendment) Bill 2012 still retains the provision stating that "a person found to have maliciously published any false news shall be guilty of an offence punishable for jail of three years and/or fine of RM20,000 maximum."
In other words, media practitioners are still subject to be charged, fined and imprisoned for their publications. We are still being haunted by the fear.
Another worry is, it seems that our freedom of speech has been trampled by "ideologies" and "partisan camps". The division based on either friend or foe leaves no room for a calm and rational voice, causing a confusion in the concept of democracy and freedom, as well as a disorder in behaviour. It is in fact another kind of interference that brings the media a new fear.
The freedom of the press is the cornerstone of a democratic society while public opinion is a force to drive social progress. On the World Press Freedom Day, I hope that all from the ruling and alternative coalitions will reflect and work hard together with members of the media. Although we are disappointed today, we must still see a hope for tomorrow!