1st June, 2008
A free nation entails not only democratic elections, but also the public sphere within which the citizens may freely exchange information and ideas, debate, deliberate and form public opinion. Public opinion not only sways elections, but also constraints the behaviour of governments, preventing the emergence of elected dictatorships.
Media freedom is therefore at the core of a free nation. Attainment of national independence is indivisible from advancement of media freedom. Repressive laws are only required by governments that are afraid of dissent.
In this sense, decolonization must be measured by the civil and political rights the citizens enjoy. The people are often treated like minors who need parental guidance. The decolonization process is only complete when the post-colonial government is able to see the people, and the people are able to see each other, as politically mature, rational and competent. Internal political independence needs democratization, which entails media freedom both as an end and a means. This requires not only laws that advance our freedom, but also a decolonized mentality which is able to see that we deserve freedom and can advance our quality of life with freedom.
The struggle for Malaysia’s independence is therefore an unfinished business. England, which had no licensing requirement on newspapers at home, imposed on Malaya various repressive publication laws that led to the Printing Presses Ordinance 1948. Unfortunately, this law survived Malaya’s independence in 1957 and Malaysia’s establishment in 1963, and evolved into the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. We have also other draconian laws like the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Sedition Act, and the Official Secrets Act. And beneath these laws is our misguided fear of freedom and truth, a fear that had subjected us to control and propaganda.
After 50 years of independence from the British, it is time that we mentally decolonize ourselves and claim our media freedom and, by extension, a full democracy. We must now seek free speech, information access and empowerment.
It is incumbent upon all Malaysians to advance media freedom as a national project and make our celebration of national independence meaningful. The public must show their support to journalists, bloggers, writers and photographers in defending and expanding the public sphere, like they do soldiers who defend the nation’s sovereignty. In turn, the journalists, bloggers, writers and photographers must demonstrate a high degree of professionalism and ethics commensurate with the freedom. Finally, the government, both at the federal and state levels, must do their part via laws and policies to advance the public’s right to know and their freedom of expression.
On the first Sunday of June, let us walk together as a nation to show our solidarity to the journalist and blogger fraternity, to mark our determination to claim our media freedom which is long overdue and to reflect on our roles in advancing our media freedom, democracy and nationhood. Let us walk the talk, anywhere you like, bearing in mind that hundreds or thousands of citizens are walking with you.
Let us come together as a nation for our freedom.