By Dorothy Teoh, From THE NEXNEWS GROUP, PUBLISHER OF THE EDGE AND THE SUN.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting next to a developer at a dinner, and the topic of our conversation came round to press freedom. He asserted, “The country should have a free press. It would act as a check and balance on the three pillars of government: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.” As a journalist, I couldn’t agree more. The role of the press as the ‘fourth estate’ was a concept introduced to me as a young journalism student at one of the local universities.
But when I started work as a reporter, I learned that there is a big divide between theory and practice. And over the years and now as an editor, I’ve seen how far short we’ve fallen of that ideal and of our lofty calling.
A free press that acts as a check and balance on both individuals and institutions—government, the legislature, the judiciary, business, the civil service, the police force, NGOs and so on—plays a crucial role in building a just and democratic society. By calling for transparency and accountability, the press reinforces good governance and helps to ensure that there is no place for corruption and abuse.
It is no accident that the 10 least corrupt countries (Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and Norway) in Transparency International’s recently released rankings enjoy high standards of living. And except for Singapore (which incidentally makes for an interesting case study), they all enjoy a relatively free press.
I say “relatively free” because there is no such thing as absolute freedom of the press. Under Malaysia’s Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), all print media of a periodical nature are required to obtain a permit that must be renewed yearly. It can be revoked or suspended by the Home Affairs Ministry for various reasons, such as the publication of content considered “likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, [or] security”; or likely to “be prejudicial to… national interest.” If the Minister refuses to grant or renew a permit, the decision is not open to judicial review, under an amendment in the late 1980s.
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