Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The media and unhappy politicians

Of late the Malaysian media has become more strident in its reporting and has itself become the target of unhappy politicians who want the government to stop media attacks on ministers and the state authorities.

Cabinet ministers "affected" by the media exposure want the government to be stricter in monitoring the mainstream media. It seems that various laws governing either directly or indirectly the media such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), The Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Media and Printing Press Act are not enough. Or maybe they did not realise that most of the so called mainstream media are either under the direct or indirect control of politicians associated with the ruling coalition government.

It is undisputed that all news organisations are governed by all the applicable laws of the locality, state, and nation.

Works Minister and leader of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a member of the ruling coalition government, riled by reports on problems with highways and bridges under his ministry's supervision, had decided not to react to such reports anymore.

What the media trying to do is to venture into investigative reporting. One or more reporters go out on a story, usually after receiving a tip from the desk (news desk), a reader or some other source, and come up with significant information that would not ordinarily have been developed through regular or official sources.

I am for investigative reporting but there is no conceivable way in which a newspaper can bid for the respect and favour of its community and avoid risk, controversy, and sometimes a bitter struggle for survival.

While the role of the news media as watchdogs in the governmental processes is the most familiar and the most celebrated, the thrust of public service journalism today is in the direction of such growing areas as civil rights, consumerism, inflation, health protection, and the war on poverty.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the USA once said that the guarantee of free speech does not permit a citizen to raise a false cry of "fire" in a crowded meeting hall and escape punishment. Nor may a political leader incite to riot because there is a constitutional guarantee of free assembly. No newspaper, similarly, may abuse its guarantee of freedom by sending its delivery truck through traffic lights or refusing to pay its employees.

Freedom comes with responsibility, accountability and most importantly sincerity.

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