Monday, January 20, 2014

Press freedom essential to survive

A free press, the freedom of which is limited and under wraps, is the very first element that could bring more democracy in a country but only if the press is freed from muzzling and self-censorship.

In the drive for press freedom, the opposition has to play a bigger role in pressing Najib Tun Razak’s government to keep up to its promises on guaranteeing such freedoms.
It is obvious that the government will not offer more freedom to the local print press; keeping a firm hold on the newspapers, which is vital to prevent the opposition to take over Putrajaya.

The opposition leaders must however keep up with their promises, made umpteen times, to put foreign officials in the loop on issues of press freedom and must campaign radically in favour of press freedom.
However, the situation is getting worse for the local media.
In recent months, there has been a ‘valse’ (French term for waltz) of staff movements in the local media scene, with large groups of journalists and support teams leaving the likes of the Malaysian Insider and even the NST, for greener pastures.
Yet with the suspension – indefinite and most probably for good – of The Heat, the print media world has turned jittery. We should expect a towing to the official line in the printed articles that we are going to read in this despairing year 2014 for the media.
Nevertheless, not all is lost for the fight for a free press, since the 2015 deadline for the formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) could augur well for the media world.
Coupled with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), the fight for the freedom of press could take a sudden turn.
The government too will realise, sooner than later, that the printed media is in fact a sunset industry and keeping its grip and heavy lid on it will only shorten the route for its death; despite claims by some bloggers that the printed media is doing just fine in Malaysia.
An uphill battle still
Talking to the local publishers, it is obvious that the printed newspapers and magazines are facing an uphill battle, losing ground to online advertisements while the readership is dwindling; beaten by the multitude of online media, blogs and the over powering social media.
The TPPA, the AEC and the deeper penetration of broadband internet in the country are signs that the government is preparing for the inevitable.
Under the TPPA and the AEC, the authorities will have to ensure that a free press thrives in the country in order to attract more foreign direct investments (FDI).
Moreover, Malaysia’s percentage of overall investment in the Asean member states is now lower than its share of the group’s GDP, said the US government owned state.go website.
On the other hand, the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) which addresses governance and quality of life issues is aimed at reducing corruption.
The government is certainly aware that it will never be able to meet such goals – that is reduce corruption – if it does not free the press of its overbearing grip.
Yet, it is up to the opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, to show cause why it is essential for the press to be freed, and put more pressure on the government for it to accept that in this modern age it cannot keep a lid on the print media.
Meanwhile, the print press in Malaysia will have to grow up eventually and behave like a professional unit that will contribute in the making of a new Malaysia – one that will attract more of the much needed FDIs for the country to remain competitive in the Asean.
Ali Cordoba writes extensively on local politics.

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