Saturday, May 9, 2009

Press Freedom in Western Terms

Much has been said about press freedom. Press freedom is the buzz phrase for western media, an excuse to label which country is 'democratic' and which is not. Dato' Najib lifted the ban on Harakah and Suara Keadilan during the first week of becoming the sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia. Young Malaysians quite often cringe about the biasness of 'mainstream media' reporting, therefore they are switching to alternative media (blogs and online news portal), to the extent that they would believe every bit of alternative media news even laced with lies. That is the extent of people's disgust of mainstream media.

Fair enough. Many colleagues have expressed disgust of the monopoly by Media Prima over major news networks, TV channels and mainstream periodicals. This might be the source of the problem why people perceive the media as the government's mouthpiece.

Fair enough. Notwithstanding their feelings, I find it somewhat convenient to procure opposition-backed papers these days although slightly more pricey than the usual Utusans and Stars. If people are tired of reading what Utusan has to say, it's not that difficult to grab the latest copy of Suara Rakyat. The market will be at equilibrium once again.

Of course, the great western countries and their brand of media are fond of labelling other countries as undemocratic because of the lack of 'press freedom'. Let's look at press freedom in Australia. Back in 1974, the Australian government filed an injunction to prohibit any newspaper to reproduce a cable sent by the Australian ambassador to Indonesia regarding 'national interests' of oil reserves in East Timor.

CNN and BBC have also been labeled biased in reporting the massacres in Palestine and Iraq, while depicting US, British and Australian soldiers to be 'liberating' the people of Iraq from dictatorship (only to be changed with another form of dictatorship - occupation). To date, the so called "War on Terror" has killed more than 100,000 Iraqi civilian and a mere 4000 American troops.

Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-based news agency was the sole news agency giving a balanced view of the second Gulf war, only to have its base in Kabul bombed by US warplanes. The Pentagon denied any intention to bomb the news agency office but could not explain the gross error despite their technological superiority in precision bombing and weapons of mass destruction.

Nevermind the fact that major news networks and periodicals are owned by powerful figures such as Rupert Murdoch (whose 170-odd publications supported the war in Iraq).

kudakepang in his blog also asserts that journalists and reporters were heavily screened by Pentagon in the interest of "national security". In 2006, Israeli troops shelled the Al-Manar media office, accusing it of having ties with the so-called "Terrorist" organization Hezbollah. Both US and Germany have banned Al-Manar.

An excerpt from Syed Akbar Ali's book "To Digress A Little" to illustrate the press freedom that Australians enjoy when dealing with "national security".

The Aussies never championed the Timorese when East Timor was a Portugese colony. But after Indonesia kicked out the Portugese colonialists from East Timor in 1975, the Aussies started to champion Timorese independence from Indonesia. Now after Timor is independent, the Aussies are stealing Timor's oil resources. The Aussie plotting to loot Timor's oil reserves has been in the works for decades. At last, they are achieving it.

In August 1974, when the Aussies realized that the Portugese colonials will be kicked out by the Indonesians, a secret cable was sent by Richard Woolcott, the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, to the Foreign Affairs department in Canberra. The cable said:

"We are all aware of the Australian defence interest in the Portugese Timor situation. But I wonder whether the department has ascertained the interest of the minister of the Department of Minerals and Energy. This department might well have an interest in closing the present gap in the agreed sea border and this could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia, than with Portugal or independent Portugese Timor. I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stand but that is what the national interest and foreign policy is all about. (Quoted in Aarons. The cable, sent on 17 August 1974 appears in the book Documents of Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-1975 by GJ Munster and RR Walsh. This book was banned in November 1980 after an Australian government injunction. The Australian High Court prevented newspaper from publishing the cable".

So much for press freedom, freedom to be given if you're reporting for the right side.

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