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Negative vibes on press freedom in a Pakatan-led Malaysia

World Press Freedom Day 2012 in Malaysia Bersih 3.0 News

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

January 16, 2018

A Youth’s Take — A weekly column by Zaidi Azmi

TWO weeks ago, a high ranking opposition leader said what could be described as a laughable one-liner at the Pakatan Harapan convention.

“Next year, you are going to have full freedom. Oh, my bad (sic, sic, sic!!) it’s going to be this year,” said Pribumi Bersatu vice-president Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Rahman while pointing at the press.

According to the former chairman of the Election Commission, the guarantee of absolute press freedom is part of Pakatan’s post-victory agenda.

Google the phrase “press freedom in Malaysia” and one will be presented with a laundry list, detailing the alleged suppression of the media done by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

Even before Rashid, there were already several prominent opposition figures who hollered with great gusto on how the press would be freer if the opposition was to form government.

That said, the hostility that some prominent opposition figures have shown against any media they deemed to be affiliated with BN tells a different story.

For example in 2015 DAP secretary-general and Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng went as far as abruptly ending a press conference when reporters asked him about the then DAP-PAS local council election spat.

That is not all. In 2012, Lim lso threatened 86 Chinese primary schools in Penang that he would stop funding them if any of the schools continued to subscribe to Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian.

The same subscription-cessation of the two newspapers was done by Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali last year.

However unlike Lim, Azmin even went as far as instructing all state departments, agencies and companies to also stop advertising with the two daily newspapers.

Instead, he urged them to subscribe to The Star, Sinar Harian and the state government-owned Selangor Kini because he thinks the banned dailies were essentially spreading fake news.

But what Lim and Azmin did probably pale in comparison with how Pribumi Bersatu denied newsmen the right to cover the debate during its maiden annual general assembly last December 30.

The reason? Party chairman Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that the debate had to be done behind closed doors so as to allow delegates to speak freely.

So press freedom was curtailed to allow free speech to flourish? A bit oxymoronic don’t you think?

Then again, BN doesn’t really have a glowing track record when dealing with the press either, especially against those who it perceived to be anti-establishment.

Like how Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had expelled a Malaysiakini reporter from a press conference although the reporter had yet to ask any question.

Or how Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor had planned but failed to impose a media blackout at the Umno general assembly three years ago.

So when it to comes press freedom it appears that both sides are like two peas in the same pod.

But for one side to claim that the press will be freer once they rise to power speaks volumes about the kind of characters sitting on that particular side.

The point is true press freedom comes without any ifs and buts. Either it’s completely free or it’s nothing at all. 

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at [email protected]