Some Malaysians are under the wrong impression that the role of the press is to write glowing reports about individuals, institutions or the government. It is not!
A fully functioning democratic nation needs a strong and independent press to report the facts, to investigate, and ask probing questions so that leaders, politicians, as well as the rich and powerful, can be brought to account.
These media efforts will enhance the quality of public life, improve the functioning of our institutions and stimulate public debate.
We expect members of the press, and individuals in society to scrutinise, not because we want them to humiliate, or seek attention. We do this so that the rakyat, especially those without a voice, will stop being abused by the mighty, especially in a society which is oppressive.
An indirect result of press scrutiny, means that the press, can act as the nation’s conscience; but there is also a flip side to reporting. This occurs, when newspaper owners or political allies of the newspaper, seek to present only their narrative. Some do this by biased reporting, or by paying reporters to write a piece that is slanted towards their own views.
Last week, there were a few disturbing incidents which question the health of press freedom in Malaysia.
Reporter from the South China Morning Post under investigation
One of them was the police investigation of a journalist from the South China Morning Post (SCMP), who wrote an article which detailed the swoop on undocumented migrants at Kuala Lumpur’s Masjid India. The article, published on 1 May, was written by the SCMP’s Malaysian correspondent, Tashny Sukumaran.
The coordinator of the social movement Projek Wawasan Rakyat (POWR), had expressed concern, because Tashny’s report, which he said was both factual and objective had resulted in a police probe.
Tashny had merely recorded events and made public the opinions of various individuals from civil society.
Nevertheless, the police said that Tashny would be probed under Section 504 of the Penal code, for intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace. POWR said that the government had been asked to provide their version of events, and failed to respond to requests for comments.
The raid in Masjid India was also covered by reporters from Aljazeera & Channel News Asia (CNA), so why was Tashny singled out?
Police Report lodged about social media posts
In a separate incident, the Ministry of Health (MoH), lodged a police report, because social media posts said that MoH officers had been detained by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) as a result of a probe into a RM30 million contract awarded to a company.
Was it necessary to lodge police reports when a denial should have sufficed? Highlighting the social media chat with a police report, will only make the public imagine that the ministry had something to hide, and was merely harassing the holders of certain FaceBook and Twitter accounts.
Reporters banned from covering a court case
Yesterday, in another bizarre incident, the Registrar of the Federal Court, issued a denial, that it had barred at least five reporters, from a case which involved Nurul, the daughter of the Umno-Baru president, Zahid Hamidi, who had flouted the strict rules of the Coronavirus Movement Control Order (MCO).
The registrar’s statement added that no instruction had been issued to ban the media and claimed that the court did not realise that journalists were present.
Reporters wear their press badges. Was the court really so packed that court officials were unable to see the badges?
Nurul was on trial because she had openly declared on Twitter that she had met various ministers, during the MCO. Her presence in court would naturally have attracted droves of press men.
When the public reacted with outrage, Nurul challenged her critics to lodge a police report. This arrogance reflects badly on Zahid and other politicians. They are members of the ruling elite, and should set a good example, not respond with more haughtiness.
The responsibility of the press
The press have a responsibility and a duty to report the truth. Why would they lie about being unable to enter the court to cover, Nurul’s case?
Why would they stake their reputations by making outrageous claims, and why did the court registrar deny that reporters had been banned.
The more the authorities seek to deny, mask the truth or lodge police reports, the rakyat is inclined to think that they do have something to hide.
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NB. 1. What do you think of TV 3 in Malaysia?
2. Do you limit your children to the number of hours they play computer games?