Today theSun published a story where I covered about a
discussions that highlights on the press freedom in Malaysia
Headline: Writing without Boundaries
By Bissme S
During a recent book launch held at Borders @ The Curve, four well known columnists and journalists took the opportunity to talk about the challenges of writing in the mainstream media.
Leading the charge was activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, who was launching her third book, Dancing on Thin Ice, which is a compilation of her columns published in an English daily.
The book also features two of her pieces that were never published. Some people assume that being the eldest daughter of a former prime minister gives her the privilege of speaking her mind without fear of censure from the authorities.
“I don’t think I am specially protected in any way,” says Marina candidly.
“I have yet to spend a night in the lock-up but I think that is due to the way I write. I think I have developed a way of saying things in a style that … [manages to] get my point across and most of [my readers] get what I am trying to say.”
Still, Marina does not take her freedom for granted.
“What people thought was safe (in the past) is not safe any more,” she says.
“Today, I just read in the newspaper that even the word ‘moderation’ is not a good word.”
Zainah Anwar, who has a column in an English daily, points out that the government will not offer press freedom on a silver platter.
“It is up to the journalists and the editors to push the boundaries of press freedom,”she says.
“The more journalists push the boundaries, the [safer the] space for press freedom will be.”
As a young journalist in the 1970s, Zainah often argued with her editors to reinstate information in her articles that had been cut out.
“You cannot take censorship lying down,” she says.
“Young journalists need to take this up with their editors, and sometimes, the editors will get tired and give in.”
She admits some editors in certain media are politically appointed, and that these editors feel it is their job to protect their masters, indirectly contributing to censorship in the media.
“The less credible you are in your reporting, the less people will read your work, and that will contribute to your [paper’s] circulation plunging,” she says.
R. Nadeswaran, who writes the popular Citizen Nades column for theSun, had in the past exposed corruption within government bodies.
“I have been often asked why I am attacking this and that minister,” he says.
“But I am not attacking anyone. I am just exposing corruption. I am just writing based on facts.”
He admits that it is difficult to get civil servants to respond
to some of the questions he sent to them.
“We can build a better society if civil servants are more open and transparent,” he says.
“In one of the articles I read on (the late) prime minister Lee
Kuan Yew when he took over Singapore (in 1965), he saw there were a lot of letters of complaints in the newspaper.
“He immediately issued a circular to all his ministers that letters must be replied within 48 hours, and that was when everybody got on their feet.”
In pushing the envelope to get at the truth, Jahabar Sadiq always encourages his reporters to be honest in their reports.
“I always tell my reporters that we are (living in) the Wild Wild West, and we are the cowboys and we just waiting for the marshall to shoot us down,” says this CEO and editor of the Malaysian Insider, with a smile.
“And our duty is to tell the truth.”
Over the years, Jahabar has found that readers are now becoming more mature, but the government and civil servants have become more immature instead.
Yet, these media practitioners are hopeful that this negative scenario in the country can change for the better.
“Sometimes, the frustration sets in but if you keep on banging your head against the wall, one day, the wall will crack,” Nadeswaran says.
Zainah agrees. She says though freedom of expression here is tight, it still very much open, and Malaysians should take advantage of it.
“In some places, if you want to write the kind of things I write, death awaits you,” she adds, pointing out that some of her Middle Eastern journalist friends have been forced to flee their homeland and are now living in the United States, Germany and France for their own safety.
“Back home, they receive death threats and their house gets burnt down."
She adds that while people in some countries will not even take the trouble to write to the newspapers about the bad state of affairs in their country, in Malaysia, people still care and they still write letters of complaint to the newspapers.
“Once we don’t speak up, that is when we start to go downhill,” she says.