2 May 2002
Source: By Claudia Theophilus / Malaysiakini
Malaysia’s media practitioners should redefine press freedom according to the country’s racial and economic sensitivities instead of being the “dog of the western media imperialists”, said parliamentary secretary to the Information Ministry Zainuddin Maidin today.
He said it was not necessary for Malaysians, media practitioners included, to accept the western concept of press freedom, which only serves the interests of developed countries like the US and those in Europe.
“Many of our journalism scholars are Americanised and thrive on the recognition of being called ‘heroes of press freedom’ by western countries when they are only being the dog of western media imperialists.
“If they (westerners) don’t see press freedom our way, that doesn’t mean we cannot practise it,” Zainuddin told reporters after launching a forum organised by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)-Utusan Melayu branch.
The forum, attended by about 70 people, heard New Straits Times group editor-in-chief and once Internal
Security Act detainee Abdullah Ahmad talk on “ISA and the media”, followed by former Utusan Melayu editor, also an ex-ISA detainee, Said Zahari on “Journalism and patriotism”.
The third speaker, Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press chief editor Hoong Soon Kean spoke on a case study of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press.
’Practise our way’
When Zainuddin was asked to comment on the international commitment made by Malaysia during the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Australia in March, he said that did not preclude local journalists from giving priority to national, social and economic interests.
At the Brisbane Chogm, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had endorsed the upholding of the freedom of expression as a principle in the Coolum Declaration.
When Zainuddin was asked how he reconciled Malaysia’s commitment to the Commonwealth to uphold freedom of expression and his claims of western media imperialism, he said, “Just because a newspaper shows support to the government it does not mean that there is no freedom.
“We can endorse anything at the international level but that doesn’t mean that we cannot practise press freedom our way.”
He then lashed out at “certain journalists from Thailand and the Philippines” for acting as “agents of western media imperialists” and trying to impart the notion of press freedom to local journalists.
“Who are they to come here and lecture us on press freedom? They are being used as agents of the western media imperialists. Their countries are like shit. They dream to be like us. They are missionary writers sent out to propagate the western media agenda in our countries.
“We, Malaysia, and Singapore, are different because we practise our own kind of press freedom which takes into account the sensitivities of our people,” he said, but declined to name the Thai and Filipino “missionary writers”.
Zainuddin also felt that reporting the calls to remove the bumiputra housing quota was unhealthy because it can cause racial tension.
“Reports like these should not be published. If we are not careful, reports like today’s Utusan headline on upholding bumiputra rights could also be exploited by certain quarters.”
He said chief editors had bigger problems than press freedom to contend with, such as company bottom line, staff salaries, bonuses, misuse of the courts by con-artists, legal practitioners out to make a quick buck and the opposition.
“A Malaysian media council is the answer to all this,” he said, adding that it will help resolve the job hazards in the media industry.
“Today, journalistic professionalism is not only curbed by the government as popularly thought by many, but by the corporate sector and con-artists who use the media for their own gain.”
In her opening speech, NUJ president Norila Mohd Daud said the takeover of Utusan Melayu in the 1960s by Umno had led to a tamer newspaper today, not unlike Nanyang Siang Pau after its takeover by the MCA last year.
“The Nanyang takeover had resulted in the loss of press freedom and money whereas the Utusan takeover had cost individual freedom and future.
“Furthermore, some media practitioners are more concerned over defamation suits which can lead to bankruptcy, than laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act,” she said.
Referring to Malaysia’s No 1 position with the highest number of defamation suits in the region, Norila asked whether it was due to media practitioners being unskilled, less informed or whether Malaysians were overprotected by laws guaranteeing basic human rights and individual freedom, thus allowing legal action against newspapers which exercise press freedom to criticise them.
On the media council proposal, she said such a body will provide an alternative way of ensuring more press freedom, but reiterated that the union has still not received a draft of the proposal.
The union with a membership of 1,500 has been kept in the dark over the progress of the proposal and has vowed not to give its backing if the proposal compromised press freedom.
One of the drafters of the proposal had told malaysiakini last week that journalists have nothing to fear about the formation of the council because the government will not proceed further without their approval.