Media: To regulate or not? (Part 1)

This was the question raised at the Perdana Fellows Debate recently. Personally, I think the debate itself didn’t take it far enough due to limited time (they spent only an hour on it) thus there should be continued talk on this.

And at the same time a note to the Perdana Fellows; do a vote before and after the debate – this shows the change in mindsets by the attendees after listening to the arguments.

Before we go any further, let us be clear.

We are talking about total freedom of media in Malaysia as freedom of speech, or regulations in place to limit it. We are not talking about societies where intellectual and mature discourse is somewhat common or widespread.

So let’s argue both sides of the coin then, shall we?

Let us start with this post which is pro-freedom.

The argument for the total freedom of media as the freedom of speech is summed up by Benjamin Franklin – those who sacrifice liberty for security deserves neither.

Freedom of speech is a Malaysian guaranteed right by our federal constitution, but it is limited by certain regulations. Unfortunately for Malaysia, there are way too many regulations limiting the freedom of the media.

Mainstream media – radio and newspapers – are regulated by the government and has seen continued suppression of freedoms. This can be seen from the censorship of BFM’s interview with Reza Aslan (which wasn’t allowed to be aired live) and even the banning of The Heat newspaper after an article suddenly caused enough friction to see its license suspended.

At the same time, books are censored and have led to arrest and charges filed – such is the case of Irshad Manji’s book “Allah, Liberty and Love” which was banned by the government and even led to a 3-year long court case between Borders bookstore and the religious authorities.

Meanwhile, websites are banned without explanation or proper cause. This is the case of getting blocked by the Malaysian Commission of Multimedia and Communication (MCMC), due to the reporting done by Sarawak Report.

Medium sought an explanation for the move – even going so far as to ask what part of Sarawak Report’s writing was false – and as of yet, the MCMC has yet to reply.

And personally, with the recent release by the Auditor-General on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) clearly shows that there was nothing wrong in the reportage of the local and foreign press on the company’s massive wrongdoings, or blunders if that makes you more comfortable.

The Edge, Sarawak Report, the now defunct The Malaysian Insider and blogs have all been blocked by the MCMC which have continued to censor The Net simply based on whimsy by the looks of it.

Meanwhile, even cartoons aren’t a safe bastion anymore for parody. Zunar himself is now a Malaysian Book of Records title holder for the most number of sedition charges. His crime?

Drawing cartoons making fun of the prime minister and his wife.

On top of all this, social media users are also being persecuted by the police simply for having opinions and posting parodies.

These all point out to a serious need to reconsider removing regulating the media as a whole because those with the power over regulations have become a bastion to protect not the government as an institution, but has become a cult to protect one person – and that person is the prime minister.

It borders idolatry.

And if these regulations are in place further, what is to stop others from using it to do the same?

Therefore, it is valid to argue that no regulation is better than to have regulations which will lead to abusive powers and limiting liberties.


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