Dear Prime Minister Abdullah,
26 September 2007 saw two thousand lawyers “Walk for Justice” to defend the good name and protest the sliding standards of their profession. “When lawyers march,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, President of the Bar Council, “something must be wrong.”
Last Saturday (10 November 2007), 40,000 people from all walks of life and all ages walked through rain-drenched Kuala Lumpur, skirting roadblocks, locked LRT stations, FRU batons, tear gas and water cannons, as well as weeks of misinformation and propaganda through the mainstream media and hacked alternative media. They marched to show their disappointment in the current electoral system and their hopes for reform.
Malaysian citizens travelled for hours through the night from all over the country to play cat-and-mouse in Kuala Lumpur with an intimidating array of security forces, whose role was clearly not to secure our safety.
I saw men armed only with shouted slogans beaten with batons and shields and thrown to the ground. I saw an old woman in a wheelchair halted by a barricade of troops, wielding a deafening siren at her ears. I saw a child clinging to his mother’s shoulders being crushed back, and back. He looked terrified, and rightly so.
This was at Jalan Mahameru, not Masjid Jamek where, in spite of what IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan described as police “restraint” (Sunday Star, 11 Nov 2007), unarmed marchers, including journalists, were beaten, teargassed and bombarded by chemical-laced water cannons. At Jalan Mahameru, we faced two rows of riot police, smashing batons against their shields. I saw and photographed people dropping to the ground around me.
This should be the journalist’s privilege, to be allowed to witness and report the uncensored fruits of that act of witness. But in this country, the journalists and their editors are not afforded even this, or any other kind of professional privilege, or protection, in order to carry out their jobs according to the Journalists’ Code of Ethics. That is, among other things, to pursue factual accuracy and report objectively, without fear or favour.
Instead, journalism in Malaysia seems to be ruled by a Code of Fear and Favour. Here, our mainstream journalists and editors are directly or indirectly on the State’s payroll, and therefore accountable to the State. Those who aren’t are kept on a tight leash of precarious licences and legislation designed to pit self-censorship against financial ruin. Which the bosses will prioritise is a no-brainer.
It seems to me our media professionals do their best to navigate these treacherous waters, getting by in terms of professional pride through little acts of bravery, defiance and subterfuge. The travesty of it is that, in a true democracy, they shouldn’t have to…
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