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The desperation behind move to abolish Malaysia’s Press Law

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Unspun’s alter ego had his five micro-seconds of fame in the Malaysian newspaper The Star this morning. And since Unspun’s an advocate that bloggers mainly put a context to news items let me put the context on the news item below.

The Printing Presses and Publications Act in Malaysia is a law that successive Malaysian governments have used as one of their instruments of controlling the Press. Essentially it requires any news publication to seek a license from the Government before they can be published. As such the Government can threaten what it considers uncooperative media houses with revoking the license unless they toe the line.

The Act has been around for decades and used mainly to get the editors to self-censor their contents. Why there is now talk of repealing the act is that the Malaysian Government coalition which comprises Umno (Malay-based) and the Malaysian Chinese Association is in, to put it mildly, in deep poo pooh. Voter support has been dropping drastically and they face an upcoming general election.

In deepest poo pooh is the leader of Umno and the government coalition, Najib Abdul Rahman, who is also the Prime Minister. He’s a well-meaning enough person but weak in character and political clout. Observers say he realizes that the government is unpopular because of the rampant corruption within its ranks, and he genuinely wants to change the way things are done. But he’s held ransom by the Umno chieftains who have for too long grown fat on the largest of office and would not let anything tip their applecart.

So poor Najib has been forced to seek help from all sorts of sources to boost his popularity that would make a snake oil salesman seem respectable. He, for instance, once appointed APCO to boost his image. That got nowhere fast. In a fit of desperation he even tried to make himself look “young and cool” by pulling a prank on a DJ (Imagine Najib going: “Ha! Punk’d you”). All it did was to make him look as ridiculous as a middle-aged man trying to look hip and cool in a florid Versace shirt, tight pants and white shoes.

His latest desperate gambit was to present himself as a reforming politician, so me mooted the idea of repealing the much hated Printing Presses and Publications Act.

In not as deep, but deep enough, poo poo are his cohorts in the Malaysian Chinese Association. This political party was supposed to represent the interests of the Chinese in Malaysia but after the first generation of leaders what they did was to represent their own business interests best. Riddled by factional in-fighting and a slew of uncharismatic leaders, the MCA also has seen its support from the Chinese community dwindle.

So now, also in a fit of desperation, they have taken to making a virtue of necessity and have come up with a New Deal Manifesto in which it hopes to be seen as a champion of a more democratic Malaysian society by calling for an abolition of the Printing Presses Act.

This is all political opportunism that is unconvincing to anyone who knows anything about malaysian politics and the Malaysian Press.

The Act is but one of the instruments of control used by the government. The other instruments are the Internal Security Act (there is also talk of abolishing it, to be replaced by an Anti-Terrorist Act), the Police, the Judiciary, political patronage (just try to name any chief editor in any major Malaysian media that is politically unfettered), self-censorship and coziness (as in junkets and golf games).

Moreover, the Malaysian Press has been so neutered in the past decade or so that it is difficult to imagine it nurturing anyone with the integrity, calibre and courage to make use of whatever freedoms the abolition of the Act may bestow to run a kick-ass newsroom.

So take it for what the hullabaloo about the abolition of the Printing Presses and Publications Act really is: desperate political gambits by politicians who are fast losing ground. That’s Unspun’s context on the news anyway. You might want to peruse the actual news itself below:

Unshackle to move with the times

Under its New Deal manifesto, the MCA is calling for the Printing Presses and Publications Act to be abolished to allow free flow of information.

 

IT is not the easiest of times to be a print journalist in Malaysia. While foreign journalists dodge bullets in the Middle East, over here, print journalists are dodging restrictions from the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and blows from a critical public hungry for a free press.

The choice is for online news, blogs and social media which are not subject to the Act and thus enjoy greater freedom. But for Malaysians, the print media is rendered more pro-establishment while the alternative media is deemed more pro-opposition…

 

Ong Hock Chuan, a Malaysian communications consultant and blogger based in Indonesia where the press enjoys unfettered freedom cautions against equating bloggers with journalists.

“Journalists usually come up with the news, bloggers add a context (a comment, criticism) to the news – similar but different functions in the flow of information,” says Ong.

A free press, adds Ong, does not instantly produce good journalism as it requires a combination of factors.

“Good journalism is a complex mix of factors – ownership, owner’s vision and philosophy, calibre, integrity and courage of editors are some of the main factors to consider.”

Rest of story here


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