As the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day, I would like to observe one minute of silence for my comrades who have given their lives to their profession, wherever they may come from, whatever nation, whatever skin color or religion.
They may have been reduced to some statistics today, with no names and faces, but their sacrifices remind us why it is all the more important for us to fight for and preserve press freedom. The Committee to Protect Journalists have listed down the statistics and background of journalists who have died in the line of duty, from 1992 to 2006.
For some, their lives are spared, but face jail sentences instead for exposing the truth. I stand in solidarity with Al-jazeera journalist Howaida Taha, who has been slapped with a six months jail term for “harming the country’s interests by allegedly fabricating torture scenes for a documentary”. She dismissed the verdict against her as political and vindictive in a country “with no independent judiciary,” and said the story was accurate.
Fortunately for us in Malaysia, no journalist has been killed yet, but it doesn’t mean we are safe. How many of us have been compromised in other ways? How many times we have been denied access to information because most documents are stamped “Official Secrets Act? Perhaps its time to follow in the footsteps of our comrades in Malta and “Call for a Freedom of Information White Paper” by the government.
Truth is I’ve seen more evidence of how much more restricted we are now than before. We have every other ministers and politicians breathing down the neck of bloggers. We saw how our two brothers have been slapped (and slapped) hard with defamation suits and how newspapers have been “requested” (read: warned) to refrain from quoting bloggers. You’ve also seen how bloggers have been made to be seen (and some of us do believe such lies, falling into such ancient trap but please wake up and see the games they play with us) to be liars, suspicious elements and cyber-terrorists.
So let me invite you to get more personal with press freedom. As citizens you can’t be dumb any longer or you deserve dumb newspapers and dumb journalists. No offense to my journalists friends in the mainstream media. People, you deserve the paper you pay for. So why not make a donation to Malaysiakini.com, as part of your support for freedom of speech. The paper isn’t perfect but its journalists need your support, especially your moral support.
Bloggers too need your support. Do not forget Bloggers United Malaysia (BUM) Gathering 2007, planned for 19 May, in Kuala Lumpur. It’s your chance to meet your favourite blogger(s) face to face and also hear some interesting (I hope) discussions on blogging and freedom of the blogosphere.
As for me, I turned down two press freedom events – one as speaker for BUM, an invitation from Howsy, as I would be abroad, away from Thailand during that time (but not back in Malaysia). The other is from Al-jazeera, to be on their TV Show for their take on NST + 4 others vs Rocky & Jeff. K Pakharan called me on Monday morning to say that the show would be today (Wednesday) but due to such short notice I had to decline.
Anyway, do get a copy of the Fashion magazine Marie Claire (Malaysia/Singapore May edition). I believe there is also a column on blogging and bloggers, if you are interested.
Until then, lets us think deeply about World Press Freedom Day, and what we, as bloggers, can do to preserve the fourth estate, necessary for any democratic nation. Do we want to do it by being cowed into silence, by being cozy and sweet, non-threatening, or do we want to stake our claim clearly and boldly? For me, the middle path is an illusion. I do not want to be in limbo (got a lot of time for that after my death).
If the fourth estate crumbles, we really have ourselves to blame. If the fifth estate caves in, we should really be ashamed of ourselves.