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A free press – or a two-party press system?

Mon 2013-Apr-8 @ +08 08:33:33 am

By Gobind Rudra

Everyone loves the idea of a free press, that’s practically a given. The point really is: what kind of a free press will the politicians allow us to have?

We know the Barisan Nasional’s idea of a free press: it’s the system already in place, a system mostly owned or controlled by the Barisan Nasional, free to report the thoughts of Barisan Nasional leaders; a free press kept in check by press control laws and licensing rules that allow the Barisan Nasional to decide who can be a publisher or broadcaster.

Who will buy my papers? [NST photo]

Who will buy my papers? [NST photo]

What is Pakatan Rakyat’s answer to that? Anwar Ibrahim made an emphatic declaration on this at the March 8 ceramah in Penang:

Ada orang kata Ban TV3! NO! Kita FREE media. . .YES! Kita bagi FULL FREEDOM – siapa nak bawa television, radio, surat khabar. . . FIRST DAY of the new Pakatan Rakyat government. . .(cheers, applause). Dan kita ada confidence. . .kita boleh compete dengan these racist media organs. . . Kerana. Orang. Nak. Media. Yang. Bebas. Dan bukan: media yang memperlembukan rakyat (cheers, applause). » What did Anwar really say? » Video: Anwar on free media

Stirring stuff, the kind people have been longing to hear.

But two questions remain: is he truly promising full freedom, or will Pakatan Rakyat, in practice, deliver something a little short?

Based on what he said, we can infer:

  1. No punitive action — that means no action to close down TV3 (and by extension, Media Prima and Utusan groups, and all the rest), and they stay in business.
  2. Full freedom to publish — possibly means no licences needed to publish a newspaper or open a broadcasting station.
  3. But he also asserted a freedom to compete — and that’s the crux of it. Kita boleh compete dengan these racist media organs he said. Kita boleh compete. . .meaning who, exactly?

The existing press houses are already a Barisan Nasional bloc. With freedom to publish, new people will rush in to open newspapers and broadcasting stations. Obviously, Anwar expects that these new people will be his kind of people — he did say Kita boleh compete.

So the upshot is that we can expect two kinds of privately-owned media: BN-owned private media and Pakatan-allied private media.

Anwar did not deal with the question of the public media: Radio and Television Malaysia; Suara Malaysia; Film Negara; Information Department. Will they now, under a Pakatan Rakyat government, switch sides and become Pakatan-controlled media, just as they have been Barisan-controlled media all these decades?

Going by what Anwar said, it appears possible that we will end up not just with a two-party system in politics, but also a two-party system in media.

That’s not what the country needs, not what the country deserves. Formalising today’s political fish-market in the form of two groups of media houses screaming at each other does not amount to even a half-step towards a free press.

Malaysians deserve a free press that is independent of political parties and independent of business proxies for political parties.

Malaysians deserve a free press that can give voice to their unspoken concerns, not a sponsored press that gives space and time to pander to the yammering and posturing of politicians, their flunkies, and their business patrons.

Give us a free press. And if you can’t — or won’t — then stop pretending that you care about the Fourth Estate’s role in a democracy.

Gobind Rudra is a former newspaper editor


  1. Shadaan permalink
    Mon 2013-Apr-8 @ +08 12:51:32 pm 12:51

    When the press is free to write there should be no fear of punishment. If there is fear of punishment there will be some restrictions or the truth will be censored both by the press and the government in this case. It is always difficult to offend those with lots of power when the law is not on your side. Many countries do not have freedom of the press and you will notice a correlation to human rights abuses in those countries, Malaysia is one of those ountries. The BN government is corrupted to the rim and there is no reason for them to grant press freedom because their ministers and goons will be exposed for all kinds of corruption and theft. Will Anwar and the Pakatan allow freedom of press is a difficult question, the existing laws do not allow this freedom and the laws will have to be changed by Pakatan when they come to power. This takes time and more importantly there must be a majority government.

  2. Steve Oh permalink
    Mon 2013-Apr-8 @ +08 13:50:11 pm 13:50

    Keep the fire of independent and free media burning.

    Like for the Prophet Jeremiah, the truth cannot be held in the bosom when it burns like a fire and has to find release so intrepid and independent journalists who write only the truth are today’s prophets speaking light in dark place.

    But darkness shall not overcome light when there are beacons of hope, the unyielding core of true writers , who are not swayed or seduced by the temptations of the corrupt.

    A prophet of the media has few friends and many enemies but if they speak the truth then God will intervene for them indeed for darkness shall never overcome light, lies will never overpower truth which finds its way to surface eventually because God honours those who honour truth.

    Prophets in the media are never out of work whoever is in power.

  3. Lok1 permalink
    Mon 2013-Apr-8 @ +08 17:44:54 pm 17:44

    ” But he also asserted a freedom to compete — and that’s the crux of it. Kita boleh compete dengan these racist media organs he said. Kita boleh compete. . .meaning who, exactly? ” That’s a very relevant question? I can just figure out who will get the next license to print money thru his new media challenge?? Anyone care to guess??? Anwar must sometimes engage the gears in his brains b4 speaking or else people will perceived him as cut from the same Umno cloth,that’s what I’m worried about really, I’m as pro opposition as they come
    but some PKR leaders have true blue Umno blood still running thru them, can they really change???? A simple and honest question ??? PKR is the weakest link in the coalition, that’s a given, now how Brown Cow???…Oouch!!!

  4. chong cheng hai permalink
    Fri 2013-Apr-12 @ +08 19:05:33 pm 19:05

    The first act of the new PR government should be to abolish the PPPA. Period.

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