(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Parliament should enact legislation to set up a Press Council to ensure a free, independent and responsible press with powers to investigate into complaints of irresponsible, inaccurate and unethical journalism and to impose fines for media guilty of irresponsible journalism and who are not prepared to make corrections or amends.
This is a necessary step in the country’s present development to make Malaysia’s transition into an Information Society a success.
The speech by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at yesterday’s launching of the Kuala Lumpur bureau of the Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the world’s largest business daily with a circulation of three million on the subject of press freedom contains several inaccuracies.
For instance, he alleged that the "vernacular press", clearly referring to the Chinese press, "has nothing good to say about this Government".
What is shocking is not only about the inaccurancy of this allegation, but how the Prime Minister could be so misinformed as to believe that the Chinese press "has nothing good to say about this Government".
I do not want to be a champion of the Chinese press, as I have also my quarrel with some of them, but I am more concerned that the Prime Minister should be given correct information so that the government would not be misled to take certain measures or even pass laws based on totally inaccurate data or information.
What have the MCA and Gerakan Ministers in Cabinet been doing as to give the Prime Minister this inaccurate impression about the Chinese press, which clearly cannot be borne out in any independent or impartial investigation or study!
I believe in fairness and justice, even to some of the Chinese press which had wronged me and the DAP - and I would urge the Cabinet to commission a study so as to remove once and for all the wrong impression that the Chinese press "has nothing good to say about this Government".
Dr. Mahathir said while he believed in press freedom, the Government expected the press to be a responsible one. I fully agree that the press must be responsible but disagree that there is significant press freedom in Malaysia, whether printed or electronic.
It is for this reason that I propose that a Press Council should be set up to ensure that there is a free, independent and responsible press in Malaysia, with powers to investigate into complaints, whether by government, the opposition, or any organisation or member of the public about irresponsible, inaccurate or unethical reporting by any media.
This Press Council, which should be constituted by eminent Malaysians with undoubted reputation for integrity and enjoy the full confidence of the people, should have the power to impose fines on any media guilty of irresponsible, inaccurate or unethical reporting if it is not prepared to correct or make amends.
The Press Council should also have powers to investigate into complaints by the media about improper interference with a free, independent and responsible press regardless of from whatever quarter, whether government, political parties or corporate interests.
At present, there is no recourse whatsoever against irresponsible, inaccurate or unethical journalism.
The Malaysian Press Institute had invited members of the public to lodge complaints against newspapers which are its members for violating its Malaysian Canons of Journalism, which proclaims "the primary responsibility of the Malaysian journalist is to report facts accurately and faithfully, and to respect the right of public and truth", "to uphold the fundamental freedom in the honest collection of news and the right to fair comment and criticism" and "to rectify published information found to be incorrect".
A few years ago, I had lodged complaints to the Malaysian Press Institute against two newspapers which were its members for violating its Canons of Journalism, but the Malaysian Press Institute proved to be a "paper tiger" as it never even started inquiries into my formal complaints. This is why subsequently, when I had very serious complaints against irresponsible, inaccurate and unethical journalism against some media, I did not bother to refer them to the Malaysian Press Institute.