Sunday, June 01, 2008

[Malaysiakini] Walk for Press Freedom proceeds, Zaid booed by journos

~ By Syed Jaymal Zahiid and Tarani Palani

Journalists and bloggers made a spontaneous decision to march in Dataran Merdeka this morning in support of press freedom despite a police ban on grounds of security and traffic.

The Walk for Press Freedom, which was originally planned to take place at 9am as a precursor to a dialogue between the press and de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim, took off only after the minister had left the event.

Some 150 people participated in the walk led by one of the key organisers, Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) chairperson Wong Chin Huat (left), covering a distance of about one kilometre from the National Press Club in Jalan Tangsi to the historic Dataran Merdeka.

About a dozen of police officers were present but no action was taken against the marchers.

According to the organisers, the purpose of the walk was to send home the message on the need for press freedom, journalism ethics and accountability.

Earlier at the National Press Club (NPC), Zaid in his dialogue with the media pointed out that it was unfair to lay blame entirely on the government for the sorry state of press freedom in the country.

He argued that media practitioners should share part of the blame.

"You must ask yourself first - do you take up an unpopular issue with your newsowner?" asked Zaid in the dialogue, which was hosted by the NPC.

"Don't assume all ministers are unreasonable," he said, receiving a chorus of boos from those in audience after his speech.

Originally the organisers - media reform group Benar, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), bloggers alliance All Blogs and Wami - had proposed a walk from Dataran Merdeka to the NPC.

However, on Friday the organisers called off the walk, stating that the police had advised against it as the march could disrupt the smooth flow of traffic in the area.

According to Benar, some journalists and editors were also concerned that the march might be seen as an illegal gathering.

Instead, participants were asked to walk by themselves to NPC for the dialogue with the minister, which kicked off at 10.30am.

Are you lot united?

At the NPC, in a rather unpopular move, Zaid told the crowd of media freedom activists and journalists to look at itself first before telling the government what to do.

Zaid said that it was unfair to leave the responsibility of establishing media freedom to the government alone.

And despite the jeers coming from the 150-strong crowd, Zaid went on to explain that he was indeed all for media freedom.

However, he stressed the importance of responsible journalism and the need for media regulation.

"We cannot have total freedom for the media. There is no such thing. If there is, there would be anarchy. If you want the government to deregulate media freedom, you must offer us some alternatives," argued Zaid.

The minister then argued the need for media activists to come up with a alternative proposal that can assure the government that media freedom will not be exploited to serve the interests of any particular parties.

The government has persistently shrugged off calls by media freedom activists to repeal the laws - among others the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and Official Secrets Act (OSA) - arguing that they were useful to prevent unethical dissemination of distorted facts that may destabilise the security of the country.

Media freedom fighters however accused the government of using the PPPA and OSA to silent the press and quell political dissidents.

Zaid also lamented that the press were not united on media freedom and urged journalists to get together and ensure that they have proper representation on the issues that concerned them.

"Do your editors believe in what you are fighting for? Are all the reporters together on this? You have to sort all these things out first, then give us your plan," Zaid told the crowd.

He said that not everyone in the media agreed with the deregulation of the media and argued that some senior reporters and editors in the field do not entirely agree with total media freedom.

Zaid's comments were repeatedly booed by the crowd. Some participants in the audience were seen laughing and snickering at the minister's comments.

A verbal jostle

The 45-minute question-and-answer session that followed saw the crowd shooting questions at Zaid.

The ball started rolling with a response to Zaid's point that journalists should be the one responsible in initiating media reforms.

Star senior editor Kee Thuan Chye pointed out that it is the onus of the government to respect the constitutional rights of freedom of speech.

To this Zaid reiterated that the press was unwilling to listen to other perspectives, adding that proposals for reforms were a part of the press's responsibility as well, and not just up to the government.

"You can't put all the shortcomings to the law," he said.

Zaid again reiterated the lack of unity among journalists, challenging them on whether they could really "get the press together".

He added that it was impossible to do away with existing laws without alternative solutions to replace them.

"(It) must be replaced with a mechanism. Someone has to manage that repeal (of the printing law). Then who controls the press? The media has to offer solutions," he said.

Malaysiakini columnist and ex-civil servant KJ John put Zaid on the spot by asking him if the minister would stand united with the journalists in their struggle for press freedom.

"I will stand by the press, the journalist and the media," assured the minister.

When asked by Star group chief editor Wong Chun Wai if he supported Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar's one-time approval for the issuance of publication licenses, Zaid said that "he trusts that ministers know what they are doing".

And when Zaid was pressed by Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan as to why the original plan of the walk was banned by the police, he passed the buck to "the minister in charge".

Although officially the walk from Dataran Merdeka to the NPC had been called off, some 50 people nevertheless had gathered at the meeting point prior to the dialogue and marched to the NPC.

No untoward incident was reported during the early morning walk, which was closely monitored by a team of police officers.

The above article is taken from Malaysiakini.

1 comment:

Samuel Goh Kim Eng said...

Always be polite to your officially invited speaker
Whether you agree with him or not is another matter
Consider carefully his views and questions as ice-breakers
Giving him your answers in a courteous manner is for the better

(C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng - 020608
Mon. 2nd June 2008.