No holds were barred in this faceoff between the journalist community and de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
Zaid directly challenged the journalists present, “Do your editors believe in what you are fighting for? Are all the reporters together in this? You have to sort all these things out first, then give us your plan”. (Malaysiakini)
“You must ask yourself first – do you take up an unpopular issue with your newsowner?“, Zaid said. He also absolved other ministers of blame, saying “Don’t assume all ministers are unreasonable.”
Zaid’s unpopular comments were met with boos. But these very remarks were sufficient to stir the journos present into action. They decided to stage an impromptu massed march to the Dataran Merdeka after the NPC event. Gone were the fears about causing a hindrance to traffic. Gone were worries about police action. Gone were anxieties about job loss and all that. The journalists were indeed walking their talk. Hallelujah!
The legal fraternity needed no one to urge them into staging their Walk for Judicial Reform. The rakyat responded overwhelmingly to Bersih’s call to March in support of the petition to DYMM SPB Yang di Pertuan Agong for Electoral Reform. HINDRAF was so moved by the need to voice its frustration that it strove to rouse the passions of a usually rowdy crowd while keeping them disciplined and constrained, even in the face of unwarranted and overwhelming violence.
And where were the journalists? “Mind your own business,” some said. “Armchair critics,” others protested over Benar’s effort to make the case for Media Freedom.
Everyone knows about making the cow drink. Well, bringing the cow to the water is no easy task either. There is an element of cutting off one’s own nose in any large scale boycott of the media. Far too many people have this need to hold a newspaper in their hands. Reading the papers is a relaxation that many look forward to after a long, hard day at work. Sitting in front of a computer or reading A4 sheets was too much like work to be relaxing.
On top of that that, seeking to bring the media industry to its knees would impact a large number of employees dependent their monthly salaries. When faced with bread and butter issues, matters of principle and conscience usually take second place. It’s the hierarchy of needs. Media Reform could only be effected if the journalists themselves could be stirred into action.
Benar worked on the basis premise that a sufficiently large part of the journalist community would want to do something about the state of affairs in journalism. They only needed a trigger to push them out of their comfort zone. So we decided to engage them rather than confront them. We worked with CIJ and WAMI, who were of like mind. We roped in All-Blogs to support our cause. And we managed to persuade NPC and NUJ that we were non-confrontational. And that is how the Walk for Media Freedom materialised.
While a turnout of 500 would have been magnificent, the NPC clubhouse was already bursting at its seams with the 150 who did turn up. For the next Walk, we shall have to define a larger destination.
It was good that Zaid chose to tell it like he saw it. And it was also good that the journalists were able to boo. After all, isn’t that what freedom of expression is all about? When people are all polite and nice to each other, egos get stroked but little else happens.
After all was said and done, Zaid has promised, “I will stand by the press, the journalist and the media.” The journalists have staged an unlawful protest march. Despite denying permission earlier, the Police stood by and allowed the massed march to proceed without incident. We have made much progress.
The journalists have pushed the envelope a little and discovered that it doesn’t necessarily bite back. They have been challenged and, it appears that they have accepted the challenge. Now words have to be transformed into action.
Benar, CIJ, WAMI and All-Blogs will be seeking to work with all related parties to define the Terms of Reference for the Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reform.
Help us bring this nation forward in the next, and final, stage of decolonization.