Memo to Datuk Zaid Ibrahim: Your colleagues aren’t pulling with the journalists

24 June, 2008

journalist media barred from parliament lobby area 240608 07Malaysiakini today reported that more than 100 journalists covering the ongoing Parliamentary sitting are staging a boycott after the Parliament administration restricted media access to the lobby, and barricaded the area. The journalists were outraged and stunned by the latest ruling which resulted in the entire lobby being cordoned off, apparently on security grounds. (Picture from Malaysiakini)

During the dialogue on June 1, 2008 with journalists at the National Press Club, Datuk Zaid had challenged journalists to get their act together and do a proper job. In an interview with Malaysiakini a couple of weeks ago, I was asked how I felt towards his comments. My reply was that whilst the journalists embark on pushing the envelope, Zaid and his colleagues in Parliament must also pull together in the same direction or media freedom will remain a dream.

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Mirror, mirror…

17 June, 2008

Sunday Star
Sunday, June 15 2008

Mirror, mirror…
by A. Asohan

It’s all very well to gripe about the lack of a free and fair press. Question is: Have you done anything to deserve one?

THERE’S a piece of wisdom whose truth is so self-evident that it’s been handed down the generations in various forms and via different media.

There are different aspects to this truism, and even Michael Jackson sang something about the man in the mirror.

I understand it thusly: Before you blame others for your woes, take a good look at yourself.

Nowhere was this form of self-denial more evident than in the talk on press freedom by Minister’s in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, organised by the National Press Club, the National Union of Journalists and the Centre for Independent Journalism ( two weeks ago.

The talk was followed by a “walk for press freedom” coordinated by the parties above, as well as the Writer Alliance for Media Independence, Benar for Free and Fair Media and the National Bloggers Alliance.

More than 150 journalists, civil society advocates, non-governmental organisation representatives and interested bloggers had squeezed into the National Press Club for Zaid’s speech.

He started off with a courageous – in my opinion at least – and relevant attack on the disenchanted crowd arrayed before him: Don’t blame the Government for everything. What have you done to push for reforms? How many of you are willing to risk jail or unemployment for your principles?

He soldiered on, despite some boos and catcalls from some journalists and ex-journalists – a tad ironic considering this is a profession whose code of ethics includes giving every opinion, perspective or viewpoint due consideration and the right to be aired.

It’s as if we had all forgotten that much of the malaise facing the media in Malaysia can be laid squarely at our feet.

The minister was right. We’re not a united front. We’re a bunch of professionals who compete against each other, sometimes fractiously. Sure, we may come together for select issues and at certain times, but when we go back to our newsrooms, we’re out to scoop each other.

And we’re a bunch of different individuals too. Some are journalists because it was the only job we could get, others because we wanted to serve society, a few just drifted into it, a small few because we felt the “call”, some because it seemed a good idea at the time, and quite a number saw it as a stepping stone.

We all have different views of our profession, and practise it with varying degrees of adherence to ethics and principles. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

There are, of course, damned good journalists in Malaysia, and they’ll tell you tales of reporters being sidelined because they were considered loose cannons, others being put in “cold storage” to appease corporate and political masters, some being scolded for wasting their time on “dangerous” stories.

We’re blaming the Government for all of this?

Let’s clean up our act first, then we can talk.

But there was a bit of spin-doctoring that Sunday. There are laws in this country that adversely affect the media in this country. Laws that, even if you belief in the need for them, have been inconsistently applied and abused.

They are of course the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act and these days, the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Zaid said that if these laws were to be reviewed or even repealed, the media better have something in mind to replace them, else there would be anarchy.

I beg to differ. First, Zaid is too intelligent not to know that “anarchy” (from the Greek anarchia or “without a ruler”) in its original meaning doesn’t equate to “disorder”.

Second, the Government shouldn’t get a “get of jail” card here either. These laws have been misused or abused by people in government far too much and for far too long.

Just as much as we journalists should not blame the Government for everything, or look to it to resolve our woes, the Government should not deflect from its own responsibility here either.

As a few participants pointed out at the talk, there have been attempts by the media for reform, but they’ve fallen on deaf ears.

The media, the Government … who else can we point a finger at here?

How about you, the people of Malaysia? There is some truth to the saying that the media acts as a mirror on society, and that it can only reflect the ideals and aspirations of the society it serves.

For 50 years, you folks kept returning to power, and almost always with a two-thirds majority, the parties that have enacted and implemented these laws. By doing so, you gave your tacit approval.

And cynical journalists would be quick to point out that the Malaysian electorate usually starts demanding reforms only in times of great economic turmoil, which seems to come in 10-year cycles. When stomachs start to rumble, as it were.

There are many journalists who wonder if a free and independent media is what the Malaysian public really wants. There are some who have quit the profession because they felt betrayed by the very society they were trying to serve.

Zaid said he was willing to continue engaging the media. The organisers of the June 1 “talk and walk” said they would continue to push for reforms. There is discussion of a parliamentary select committee being formed to look into the issue.

All of us – the press, the powers-that-be and the public – are stakeholders here. But unless we’re willing to look at ourselves and admit to our own culpability first, we won’t be able to change ourselves, let alone transform the media landscape here.

A. Asohan, New Media Editor at The Star, will try to calm down and clam up now … but no promises!

Maika Holdings’ lost windfall: The government owes an explanation

10 June, 2008

from Malaysiakini

On June 1 2008, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, the de facto law minister taunted journalists who attended the dialogue with him at the National Press Club with this question, “….do you take up an unpopular issue with your news-owner?”

Picture courtesy of Malaysiakini

Benar hopes the mainstream news editors will rise to Zaid’s challenge and also not ignore other issues that people want answers to. While this may take time given the lackadaisical attitude of the editors (exemplified by Zaid when he noted that only one senior editor had bothered to attend the gathering at the NPC) and the uncertainty how far and fast the envelope may be pushed, Benar, which is not subject to such conditions, would certainly raise issues as it see fits on behalf of ordinary Malaysians.

When Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became the 5th Prime Minister of Malaysia in 2003, he had promised quite a lot. Perhaps no other promise had endeared more to the Malaysian public than the promotion of a culture of zero-tolerance on corruption and the fight against this menace without fear or favour. On March 8, 2008 the public delivered a stinging rebuke to the Barisan Nasional government for its failure in this and many other things. Without transparency in government, the fight against corruption was always going to fail.

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Videos of the walk/talk

4 June, 2008

These are videos from Malaysiakini TV

Walk proceeds, Zaid booed by journos

Please click below to see more videos

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Report on the Media Freedom Walk from the media

3 June, 2008

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.

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Report on the Media Freedom Walk from around the blogs

3 June, 2008

this list will be updated as blogs or websites on the above topic are discovered. if you know of any blogs/websites with the report, which are not included here, kindly inform us. thank you.

wattahack: Media Freedom Walk – Malaysiakini and Malaysia today
Malaysia Today:
Sightings Update: Talk the Walk
Melvin Mah:
Media Freedom Day – The Walk and the Talk
Euphoria in Misery:
Walking on the wild side with Zaid
Yes, there was a walk and a talk but was there a ‘walk the talk’?
Where were the editors?
Tony Yew:
A Sunday walk and some words from a minister
Susan Loone:
Zaid hits nails on journo’s coffin
I am Malaysia:
BENAR – all in the name of media freedom
Broken Shields and Swords: Sunday updates
Julian Hopkins: The symbolism of blogs
Spanking da monkey: Report on the media freedom walk

Select Committee on Media Law Reform

1 June, 2008

1st June, 2008

Media Law Reform to Complete Decolonization

Benar, CIJ, WAMI and All-Blogs congratulate the 150 journalists, bloggers and members of the public who walked from Merdeka Square to National Press Club (NPC) and later from the NPC to the square this morning to make a point: the nation’s decolonization is not complete until the media is free.

We call upon the federal government to heed the public’s call for media law reform by setting up a parliamentary select committee for a comprehensive reform involving at least five legislations: the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act (OSA), Internal Security Act (ISA) and Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).

The select committee is a core demand in a five-month campaign beginning May 3rd and ending September 16, which includes the Walk for Media Freedom this morning. The demand was first made by 37 civil society groups in 2006.

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