By THOMAS G MUMPIN
KOTA KINABALU: A veteran journalist from Sabah has declared that the press is a silent force that moves alongside other key instituions in the nation in safeguarding democratic rights of Malaysians. Therefore, the press is a force to be reckoned with.
“The Press is playing an active role in enhancing check and balance to ensure that human and democratic rights of the peoples in Malaysia are sustained,” said Datuk Joseph Leong, chairman of the Social Communications Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu.
He was speaking on “Enhancing Check and Balance: The Role of The Press and Freedom of The Press”, at a seminar held at a hotel resort here on Thurs (Sept 12), organised by the Institute for Development Studies or IDS (Sabah).
“Let us acknowledge the fact that members of the media are as hard working and dedicated in serving the interests of Malaysia as the police or any other key institutions.
“They too work round the clock, especially now that we have on-line news portals whose editors and writers are on the alert at all times,” he said.
“True, the role of the press may not be as visual and obvious as that of the police, the MACC or the judiciary, but in reality, members of the media are playing a positive and crucial role in enhancing the check and balance for democracy in Malaysia,” he added.
In his half-hour presentation, Joe Leong, who started his journalism career in pre-Malaysia year of 1962, gave examples on how the press has faithfully played its role in reporting the many good, bad and ugly deeds and events in Malaysia.
On the freedom of the press, he noticed that top national and state leaders had made public statements giving cause for new hope for the media to enjoy a higher level of press freedom.
He said when the Pakatan Harapan took over Putrajaya, there were high hopes that the new government would repeal or set aside many of the archaic laws seen to be stiffling press freedom in the country.
As promised, the Malaysian government introduced the Anti-Fake News (Abolition) Bill that was passed by Dewan Rakyat on Aug 16, 2018. However, it was rejected by Dewan Negara (The Senate).
Leong said the time is ripe for the government to reintroduce that Bill in order to abolish the Anti-Fake News Law and bring the matter to its rightful closure.
He also spoke on how the Printing Presses and Publications Act has been one of the Malaysian legislations curtailing freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
He said that under this Act, the Minister of Home Affairs has the power to impose a list of conditions for licenses and permits of publications and reserves the right “to revoke or suspend such licence for any period he considers desirable.”
Touching on social media, Leong told participants of the seminar that they should not have the wrong notion that the cyberspace is a place where they could post anything and get away with it.
This, he said, is nothing further from the truth.
There are specific laws already promulgated in Malaysia, like the Computer Crimes Act 1997, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and the Personal Data Protection Act 2010 that have specific provisions for offenders.
The Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (MCMC) has taken action against those involved in the misuse of the new media, including the social media, websites and blogs.