In Malaysia, however, the World Press Freedom Day is looked askance by the government and the mainstream media. The Prime Minister does not issue any World Press Freedom Day message, no Minister grace any World Press Freedom Day function and the mainstream media do not come out with editorials to reaffirm that a free press is one of the most essential components of a democratic society and to remind everyone of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, and regardless of frontiers".
In fact, the mainstream media seem ashamed of the World Press Freedom Day - the reason why World Press Freedom Day functions such as talks and functions are relegated to marginalised or “underground” status.
All is not lost however as with the advent of the Internet, there is growing awareness among the people of the lack of press freedom in the country.
It is most encouraging that there is a clear line of divide between the working journalists on the one hand and the mainstream media editors/owners on the state of press freedom in Malaysia.
In the last two World Press Freedom Day, some one thousand journalists from 11 newspapers had submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi calling for more press freedom to allow the local media to play a more independent role and the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act
It is noteworthy that none of the mainstream media has come out in support of this call by the thousand Malaysian working journalists for more press freedom - marking the mainstream media editors/owners as the biggest obstacles to a free, independent, responsible and pluralistic press in Malaysia.
The mainstream media editors/owners are responsible for a most dishonest and irresponsible journalism whether as a result of political interference or through self-censorship.
A good example is the “black-out” for the past one week by the mainstream media of the latest survey of global competitiveness by the prestigious World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) 2001, simply because Malaysia did not fare well at all, falling four places from 25th last year to the 29th spot.
If Malaysia had improved its ranking even by one place in the annual survey of global competitiveness, the news would have been trumpeted on television, radio and the front pages of the mainstream media and quoted with pride by Ministers in Parliament - but because Malaysia had slipped further in the global competitiveness league, it is censored in the mainstream media.
Is this the type of “honest and responsible” journalism that the editors/owners of the mainstream mass media in Malaysia can be proud of? Is this the result of a government directive or self-censorship?
Or could it be that somehow the Malaysian mass media missed the news?
This is of course impossible, for last Thursday, at the DAP Forum on “Malaysian
Economic Crisis - OPP3 & 8th Malaysian Plan” in Kuala Lumpur,
I had referred to it, commenting that Malaysia’s deteriorating rankings
in the annual WCY in the past five years could be taken as an international
benchmark of the unreadiness of the Malaysian economy to face the challenges
of globalisation, liberalisation and information and communications technology
(ICT) and an adverse report card on the Seventh Malaysia Plan.
Malaysia was ranked in the 23rd position in 1996, improved to 17th position
in 1997, but has been on the downward decline since then, 20th in 1998,
27th in 1999, 25th in 2000 and the worst-ever ranking of No. 29 in 2001.
The Director of the Swiss-based business school International Institute for Management Development World Competitiveness Project, Professor Stephane Garelli said last week that factors holding down Malaysia’s competitiveness were “concerns” about the government’s economic policies and the imprisonment of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as well as worries over the eventual change in government leadership. Malaysia’s government efficiency ranking has fallen from 5th to 26th over the last five years.
Aren’t these news relevant and important to be reported to Malaysians?
Malaysians should mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3 as Malaysian Unfree Press Day as reminder of the need to establish free, independent and pluralistic press to give meaning to the Rukunegara objective of maintaining a democratic way of life in Malaysia.
It is time that the mainstream media editors/owners reclaim their journalistic conscience and join working journalists to fight for more press freedom and stop being running dogs (to borrow a term recently used by one of them) of press censorship - whether government or self-imposed.
Let them start by celebrating World Press Freedom Day in the mainstream media in a big and grand scale every year as an important milestone to establish a free, independent, responsible and pluralistic press in Malaysia.