Report on the Media Freedom Walk from the media

2 June 2008

Walk proceeds, Zaid booed by journos

Journalists and bloggers made a spontaneous decision to march in Dataran Merdeka this morning in support of press freedom MCPX despite a police ban on grounds of security and traffic.

The Walk for Press Freedom, which was originally planned to take place at 9am as a precursor to a dialogue between the press and de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim, took off only after the minister had left the event.

Some 150 people participated in the walk led by one of the key organisers, Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) chairperson Wong Chin Huat (left), covering a distance of about one kilometre from the National Press Club in Jalan Tangsi to the historic Dataran Merdeka.

About a dozen of police officers were present but no action was taken against the marchers.

According to the organisers, the purpose of the walk was to send home the message on the need for press freedom, journalism ethics and accountability.

Earlier at the National Press Club (NPC), Zaid in his dialogue with the media pointed out that it was unfair to lay blame entirely on the government for the sorry state of press freedom in the country.

He argued that media practitioners should share part of the blame.

“You must ask yourself first – do you take up an unpopular issue with your newsowner? ” asked Zaid in the dialogue, which was hosted by the NPC.

“Don’t assume all ministers are unreasonable, ” he said, receiving a chorus of boos from those in audience after his speech.

Originally the organisers – media reform group Benar, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), bloggers alliance All Blogs and Wami – had proposed a walk from Dataran Merdeka to the NPC.

However, on Friday the organisers called off the walk, stating that the police had advised against it as the march could disrupt the smooth flow of traffic in the area.

According to Benar, some journalists and editors were also concerned that the march might be seen as an illegal gathering.

Instead, participants were asked to walk by themselves to NPC for the dialogue with the minister, which kicked off at 10. 15am.

Are you lot united?

At the NPC, in a rather unpopular move, Zaid told the crowd of media freedom activists and journalists to look at itself first before telling the government what to do.

Zaid said that it was unfair to leave the responsibility of establishing media freedom to the government alone.

And despite the jeers coming from the 150-strong crowd, Zaid went on to explain that he was indeed all for media freedom.

However, he stressed the importance of responsible journalism and the need for media regulation.

“We cannot have total freedom for the media. There is no such thing. If there is, there would be anarchy. If you want the government to deregulate media freedom, you must offer us some alternatives, ” argued Zaid.

The minister then argued the need for media activists to come up with a alternative proposal that can assure the government that media freedom will not be exploited to serve the interests of any particular parties.

The government has persistently shrugged off calls by media freedom activists to repeal the laws – among others the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and Official Secrets Act (OSA) – arguing that they were useful to prevent unethical dissemination of distorted facts that may destabilise the security of the country.

Media freedom fighters however accused the government of using the PPPA and OSA to silent the press and quell political dissidents.

Zaid also lamented that the press were not united on media freedom and urged journalists to get together and ensure that they have proper representation on the issues that concerned them.

“Do your editors believe in what you are fighting for? Are all the reporters together on this? You have to sort all these things out first, then give us your plan, ” Zaid told the crowd.

He said that not everyone in the media agreed with the deregulation of the media and argued that some senior reporters and editors in the field do not entirely agree with total media freedom.

Zaid’s comments were repeatedly booed by the crowd. Some participants in the audience were seen laughing and snickering at the minister’s comments.

A verbal jostle

The 15-minute question-and-answer session that followed saw the crowd shooting questions at Zaid.

The ball started rolling with a response to Zaid’s point that journalists should be the one responsible in initiating media reforms.

Star senior editor Kee Thuan Chye pointed out that it is the onus of the government to respect the constitutional rights of freedom of speech.

To this Zaid reiterated that the press was unwilling to listen to other perspectives, adding that proposals for reforms were a part of the press’s responsibility as well, and not just up to the government.

“You can’t put all the shortcomings to the law, ” he said.

Zaid again reiterated the lack of unity among journalists, challenging them on whether they could really “get the press together”.

He added that it was impossible to do away with existing laws without alternative solutions to replace them.

“(It) must be replaced with a mechanism. Someone has to manage that repeal (of the printing law). Then who controls the press? The media has to offer solutions, ” he said.

Malaysiakini columnist and ex-civil servant KJ John put Zaid on the spot by asking him if the minister would stand united with the journalists in their struggle for press freedom.

“I will stand by the press, the journalist and the media, ” assured the minister.

When asked by Star group chief editor Wong Chun Wai if he supported Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar’s one-time approval for the issuance of publication licenses, Zaid said that “he trusts that ministers know what they are doing”.

And when Zaid was pressed by Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan as to why the original plan of the walk was banned by the police, he passed the buck to “the minister in charge”.

Although officially the walk from Dataran Merdeka to the NPC had been called off, some 50 people nevertheless had gathered at the meeting point prior to the dialogue and marched to the NPC at 9. 45am.

No untoward incident was reported during the early morning walk, which was closely monitored by a team of police officers.


2 June 2008

Press groups to take up Zaid’s ‘invitation’

The ‘Walk for Press Freedom’ organisers will respond to a ministerial suggestion to put forward terms of

De facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim had yesterday told the media fraternity and civil society to prepare the terms of reference for the committee.

“For all other select committees set up so far, on rape laws, national integration and integrity, the stakeholders have never been asked to prepare the terms of reference as this is the government’s job, ” the organisers said in a statement.

“We are pleasantly surprised by the generous invitation and will seek the collaboration of other parties like the National Union of Journalists, National Press Club and Bar Council to prepare the terms of reference together. ”

The statement was endorsed by media reform group Benar, Centre for Independent Journalism, bloggers alliance All Blogs and Writers Alliance for Media Independence.

The select committee is a core demand of a five-month campaign from May 3 – in conjunction with the World Press Freedom Day – to Sept 16.

The ‘Walk for Press Freedom’ yesterday was part of the campaign to highlight the demand for the select committee. The demand was first made by 37 civil society groups in 2006.

Share the blame

The groups are pushing for the committee to be set up, to launch comprehensive reform involving at least five laws – the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, Internal Security Act and Communications and Multimedia Act.

Yesterday, about 150 people participated in the 1km walk in a spontaneous decision after a dialogue with Zaid, during which he was booed repeatedly over his comments.

The minister said that media practitioners should share the blame for the sorry state of press freedom and should not just blame the government entirely.

He also told media freedom activists and journalists to look at themselves first before telling the government what to do, as he noted that the press is not united on media freedom.

The organisers echoed this in their statement, calling for journalists and editors to come together on media freedom.

“We believe the mainstream media have a professional obligation to advance the cause of media law reform by facilitating public debates and discussions, ” they added.

“Notwithstanding this, the government must both recognise the public as a legitimate stakeholder and engage all stakeholders in media law reform. ”


2 June 2008
The Star:

Try again, Zaid tells media

KUALA LUMPUR: Media practitioners should unite and put forward again their proposals for reforms and more press freedom, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

Speaking at the National Press Club, the de facto law minister said just because the press had engaged the Government 10 years ago to push for media freedom, “it doesn’t mean you must stop there. ”

“Try again. After all it’s part of the changing process, ” he told a gathering of journalists, writers, bloggers and civil society yesterday.

Zaid was heckled during his speech and the question-and-answer session.

He said it was easy to blame the state of the media in the country on “repressive laws” but it was important for the press to be honest and look at itself and take responsibility.

“If you don’t want the Government to regulate, then you have to offer a solution. You have to have a better plan. You can’t just say ‘repeal, repeal, repeal’ without a mechanism in place.

“You want to change the law, by all means, make a representation. If you say it’s not your business, then whose business is it? ” he said.

He said for media reforms, the press should first unite, be visible and representative of the journalism industry, then they should engage the relevant ministers.

“I don’t see any evidence of that, ” he said to a question.

However, a senior editor pointed out that the media had indeed been united on the issue of media reforms and had presented a petition with more than
800 signatures from journalists with its proposals back in 1999 to the Government.

“We have put in our proposal 10 years ago. We have tried. We have met many ministers. And we will continue to pursue it, ” said The Star group chief editor Datuk Wong Chun Wai.

To a question from Wong, Zaid said, if Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar were to propose to the Cabinet that publications be issued a one-off licence instead of the current practice of annual renewal, he (Zaid) would support it.

The talk was organised by the National Press Club, the National Union of Journalists and the Centre for Independent Journalism.

Speaking to reporters later, Zaid said he believed that the Prime Minister wanted to see reforms in all areas including the media.

“Put in the proposal again. Times are different. You
(the media) should do whatever you need to do and do it and get the engagement process going in a proper way.

“Sometimes it is the way that may not be right, sometimes it’s the method, sometimes it’s the substance. But don’t lose hope, ” he said.


2 June 2008
The Star

Journalists, bloggers walk to press for more freedom.

KUALA LUMPUR: A group of journalists and bloggers defied the police by walking together to Dataran Merdeka to push for more press freedom in the country.

The police citing traffic problems had not allowed the “Walk for Press Freedom” which had been originally scheduled for 9am.

The walk was organised by the Writers Alliance for Media Independence, Centre for Independent Journalism, National Alliance of Bloggers, and Benar, a cybergroup championing a free and fair media.

The walk to Dataran Merdeka took place after de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim spoke at the National Press Club. The group gathered at Dataran Merdeka but 15 minutes later a police team came and ordered them to disperse before noon “otherwise we might have to arrest you for illegal assembly. ”

Before noon, the group had dispersed.

Earlier at the club, National Union of Journalist president Norila Mohd Daud urged for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Official Secrets Act.

She also criticised the Prime Minister’s Department for lodging a police report against the media for publishing the Royal Commission Report on the V. K. Lingam video clip before it was made public.


2 June 2008
New Straits Times

Provide ideas for reform, Zaid tells media

KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Zaid Ibrahim has asked journalists and the media to get their acts together to seek reform and improve press freedom. The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department suggested that journalists propose solutions to replace existing media laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Official Secrets Act, Internal Security Act, Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act.

“The media should play its role in providing solutions rather than depend on politicians and the government.

“I am willing to engage with the media to hear them out and obtain updates and suggestions to assist in the reforms being sought, ” he said at the National Press Club here yesterday.

“They have to get the engagement process going in a proper way. Sometimes it is the method, way or substance which is not right. ” Zaid, the de facto law minister, was invited to meet journalists and bloggers at a function calling for media freedom.

National Union of Journalists president Norila Daud called for the formation of a parliamentary select committee on media law reform and the enactment of freedom of information laws.

“This is a good beginning now that Zaid himself has provided us with an avenue to be heard. I hope editors and political appointees of various media organisations, as well as their stakeholders, will review their policies in tandem with our request for media reforms.

“Otherwise, we (the print media) will lag behind as compared with the electronic and Internet media in this era of globalisation. We don’t want Malaysia to get a poor rating on press freedom. “

The setting up of a select committee on media law reform was initiated by eight Pakatan Rakyat parliamentarians.


2 June 2008

Zaid ask media people to forward proposals for greater press freedom

KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 (Bernama) — Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim urged media practitioners in the country to put forward proposals collectively to the government for the amendment, review or replacement of laws which they feel curtail greater press freedom.

He said media people such as editors, journalists and others should work together and put forward these proposals.

“Show unity. Show your role in the process. If you want to change something in existence . . . (then) you must propose and offer a solution . . . a mechanism to manage the process.

That you must do. If you want greater press freedom, you must have a plan, ” he said at a dialogue organised by the National Press Club (NPC) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Malaysia (NUJ) at the NPC premises, here.

“The country needs a good and free press. If you talk about reform, you must have plans. I believe that if we have good proposals, maybe certain progress can be made. Not necessarily (one has to) repeal everything, ” he said.

Zaid, who is the de facto law minister, said the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was committed to having greater transparency, fighting corruption, and introducing changes in the system and added that in this context, a responsible and free press was necessary.

Stressing that changes could not be made overnight, he said that in making demands for greater press freedom and calling for the abolition of certain laws, the media industry should commit itself to moving collectively and should not assume that the government was not interested in listening to it.

Among the laws which the media practitioners are seeking to have changed are the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act.

Zaid said media practitioners should not give up their struggle and just blame the government for what they see as a failure to make the necessary reforms with regards to greater press freedom but must be constant and collective in their efforts to engage the government and relevant ministers on the issues concerned.

He also said that there was no such thing as unlimited freedom of speech and that it was also impossible to let the press exist without any regulation.
If the media people wanted the government to change something, such as the laws, then a mechanism must be created to manage the changes and process, otherwise there would be anarchy, he said.

Zaid said he attended the dialogue to listen and not to endorse anything and would continue to engage the media fraternity at any time and on anything.

NPC president Mokhtar Hussain and NUJ president Norila Daud said they agreed on the need to submit resolutions to the government with regard to laws which the media industry sought to have changed.


2 June 2008

Stop blaming repressive laws, says Zaid

KUALA LUMPUR: The media fraternity has been told to stop blaming represssive laws and be committed to their profession in reporting factually and objectively. In making the call, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said such professionalism cannot be legislated.

“Tell the public the truth with no spinning. It seems to me that there are so many different shades of the truth in our media with political agendas,” he said at a dialogue on press freedom at the National Press Club (NPC) Sunday morning.

“Be honest with yourselves. If you feel strongly about the facts, do you take on the owners of your newspapers? If you are afraid of exposing because it may not get you the promotion you want, is that the government’s problem? ” he asked.

About 300 journalists, bloggers and media activists attended the dialogue jointly organised by the Centre of Independent Journalism, Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami), National Alliance of Bloggers, the National Union of Journalists, and <i>Benar</i> for Free and Fair Media.

On calls by the media for a parliamentary select committee on media law reform, shelving and eventual aboliion of the Printing Presses and Publication Act and the enactment of the Freedom of Information legislation at both Federal and state levels, Zaid questioned if the media fraternity had “convergence” and agreement on such issues.

“Yes, you (the media) should study the existing laws and make representation to the relevent ministeries, but also to start looking also at yourselves. For example why is there is only one chief editor represented in this group … where are the rest?” he asked.

He lamented that years ago when he had suggested that the media needed regulation through setting up a Malaysian Media Council and initiated the Bill in Parliament, he found there was no support for the initiative among senior journalists.

“We know that information is readily available because of the internet, and you cannot hide anything but the public does need to be protected from malicious information. So how do we ensure the “right” information to ensure a stable society and good governance?”

” We are not muzzling the press but we want a responsible press,” he said , adding there was no point in just asking for laws to be repealed.

Zaid, who suggested that an accountability mechanism be developed as part of the initiative in moving towards press freedom, stressed that he was only at the dialogue to listen and understand the views of the media.

” I am not the minister in charge to make these decisions. I am here,however,as a member of the cabinet to hear your views because we believe society is better served by a responsible and free press media,” he said.

During a 15-minute question-and-answer session that followed, Wami chairman Wong Chin Huat clarified that two years ago, more than 37 civil society organisations and 100 individuals had intiatied a call to introduce a multi-party parliamentary select committee to study the laws affecting press freedom and avoid piece-meal reform.

Zaid said preferably there should be mechanism so as to ensure the control of the press.
“It’s better for the press to develop a mechanism to regulate themselves over the government controlling the press. If there is no control, there will be anarchy,” he said.

Asked if he was agreable to the idea of a multiparty parliamentary select committee he said the government would have to study the proposal in more detail, including its terms and references.
NUJ president Norila Mohd Daud said yesterday was a historic event for the media fraternity.
“We journalists have to demand for more changes and ensure that laws like OSA and Printing Presses and Publications Act are repealed,” she said.

After the forum, the participants walked to the Merdeka Stadium, holding the Malaysian flag, where they sang the Negaraku and read a declaration titled ” Free Media for a Free Nation.”


One Response to Report on the Media Freedom Walk from the media

  1. […] Zaid talked about gumption at the Benar talk before the walk on 1st […]

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