(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The statement by the Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim that the restrictive 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) will not be repealed even if a National Press Council is set up is most disappointing and shows the vast distance he has deviated from his earlier commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law epitomised in his 1995 book "Freedom under Executive Power in Malaysia - A study of executive supremacy".
Rais said the best possible scenario would be one where the proposed council is incorporated within the Act, and not replacing it.
Raisí proposal that a National Press Council be formed under the PPPA is most inappropriate and unacceptable as this would be a contradiction in terms, with the PPPA as one of the most repressive legislation in the country to muzzle the media while the purpose of a National Press Council should be to ensure a free, fair, independent and responsible media freeing itself from political and economic encroachments.
Rais, who yesterday declared open the International Press Council Seminar in Kuala Lumpur, jointly organised by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the World Association of Press Council (WAPC), should give his full support for the establishment of a National Press Council in Malaysia.
A National Press Council to promote and defend a free and fair press in Malaysia can be set up either as a self-regulatory body of the media, as is the case in some countries, or by way of a Parliamentary statute.
In the past, the local publishers and print media had set up a press council purportedly to uphold journalistic ethics, but I had occasion to complain to such a press council about gross journalistic abuses and there was not only no redress, there was no reply even to my complaint.
The Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative MPs should set up a joint committee to draft and present a National Press Council Bill to the next meeting of Parliament aimed at promoting the freedom of the press and to ensure that the free press acts responsibly and ethically.