Press Freedom is not only possible but essential

February 9, 2013

Press Freedom is not only possible but essential

by Bob Teoh@

COMMENT: The worst headline that can greet a journalist is this: Malaysia records worst-ever ranking on press freedom. Let’s face it, we have reached rock-bottom.

Malaysia's Press FreedomIn the latest World Press Freedom Index compiled by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Malaysia dropped 23 spots to a new low ranking of 145 out of 179 countries. Some are quite happy to live with this sorry state of affairs. After all, we are three steps ahead of Singapore, which is ranked lower than Malaysia at No 149.

But this is no consolation, considering that Bangladesh, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei are better off than us. And if that’s not bad enough, Burma is fast catching up – it climbed 18 spots to No 151, just two steps behind us.

The moot point is that journalism as practised in Malaysia has fallen fromThe Reporter grace. Journalists, particularly senior editors, should start redeeming their profession.

Sure, there are many things we can’t influence or change, but one thing we can do: We can change our attitude towards journalism and believe that press freedom is not only possible but essential.

That begs the question, what is journalism? The world over, journalists who treasure press freedom subscribe to what is universally known as the ‘Ten Commandments’ that define the essence of journalism.

These are:

Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.

We can’t serve two masters. We either pursue the truth or pander to half-truths and languish in self-deceit.

Its first loyalty is to the citizens.

Our first duty is not the ruling or opposition coalition or to advertisers and media owners but to citizens. It is they who give us the primary reason for our being.

Its essence is a discipline of verification.

A good journalist is a professional and responsible one. Nothing is fit to be published until and unless the information received is verified. This requires time and hard work, but needs to be done.

Journalists must maintain an independence from those who cover.

This is easier said than done in our prevailing culture, but it is no excuse for not trying to be independent. We cannot afford to succumb to biased reportage.

It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

Again, this is easier said than done. So, like it or not, someone has to bell the cat. If we are afraid to do so, then don’t be journalists.

Journalists must have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience.

If journalists do not exercise their conscience, they pose the first hindrance to press freedom.

Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

We can never understate the right to a citizen’s privacy and protection from defamatory speech.

It must keep the news comprehensive and in proportion.

Essentially, news must have context and even-handedness. A case in point is the current ‘Allah’ controversy. The reportage thus far lacks both context and balance.

It must make the significant interesting and relevant.

The Malaysian experience, sadly, has been one that news which is significant is often hidden between the lines.

It must serve as a forum for public criticism.

Such forums are often self-censored and I can find no reason for it. I can see merit in self-restraint or prior censorship, but never in self-censorship.

Break these Ten Commandments and we may end up burning in hell.

6 thoughts on “Press Freedom is not only possible but essential

  1. A very interesting Lee Kuan Yew long long time ago…..Still searching for Lee Kuan Yew on the role of press……Ian Smith too may have said something about the press. I felt that both leaders are admirable. Unfortunately Ian was the unlucky one. Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia) has become a basket case of Africa…..Used to be the bread basket of Africa

  2. The problem with those who decry the state of of the press here is that a worse state of affairs exists in their very own countries… if only they would take the trouble to look.

    Fortunately the Internet has given ordinary citizens that which has been denied them by a press that is beholden to political/business interests… and any discerning citizen is now able to access multiple sources of news.

    So Press Indexes like that mentioned in this article and in a previous article have now become obsolete.

    Thanks to the Internet we now have more press freedom than ever.

  3. The problem with those who decry the state of of the press here is that a worse state of affairs exists in their very own countries… if only they would take the trouble to look. – Isa Manteqi

    WHO Isa? Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan?

  4. REEPERBAHN : Perhaps the countries you mention do qualify…. but I had the US in mind, where not only is the mainstream media completely discredited but its constitution shredded and its much touted democracy in the pockets of corporations and other vested interests. Press freedom?? What press freedom?

    In Italy, they have gone one step further. Almost the entire media and the airwaves were, for years,in the hands of a single owner who just happened to run the country. What press freedom?

    For decades the world has had democracy, human rights etc shoved down its throats… we now witness what a sham it has all been in their own countries.

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