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Don’t rough up the Press

February 26, 2013

The PPP has tarnished its image when its supporters barged into Malaysia Nanban's office and roughed up a journalist.

Malaysia Nanban may be a small Tamil newspaper but it has the right to express its views without fear or favour. It can criticise powerful people for their wrongdoings or take potshots at any political party which it thinks is not helping the community it claims to represent. If the targeted parties feel aggrieved and hurt, they can always take the newspaper to court. In a democracy there are avenues to settle grievances without the need to resort to violence.

A small partner in the Barisan Nasional apparently does not believe in such democratic concept. When Malaysia Nanban criticised the People’s Progress Party (PPP), it brought the wrath of the PPP on its head. A band of PPP supporters “occupied” the office of the vernacular daily and even beat up a journalist. The attack is unwarranted and unacceptable. It goes against the norm of democractic practice and is akin to mob rule.

The unruly crowd was baying for blood. The gang wanted to carry out “street justice” in the sense that it demanded to see the author of the article. Clearly, if the writer had turned up, he would be in for a good thrashing. The rabble came to the office to cause trouble and not to talk things over.

They preferred to take the law into their own hands rather than seek an amicable solution.

The PPP “invasion” must be condemned because it is a frontal assault on the freedom of the press. Malaysia Nanban published an article which it thinks is fair report. Like all newspapers, it operates under its own terms and not according to the dictates of outsiders. The freedom to publish cannot be taken away by anyone, be they rowdies or political mafias.

Politicians may disagree with the stand of a newspaper, but they cannot impose their views on the editorial desk with their fists. They cannot barge into a newspaper office and shout down on the editors and manhandle the reporters. Such crude confrontation would not produce the desired results. It would only stiffen the resolve of the press to hit back even harder.

A sore loser

In the world of journalism, all reports are published with the imprimatur of the editors. Some reports rankle politicians because the truth hurts. But politicians have no business to interfere in the way a newspaper operates. If a writer chooses a pseudonym, he has his reasons for doing so. No one can force the editor to reveal the real identity of the writer. For that matter, no one can coerce a newspaper to disclose its sources of information.

Journalists answer only to the editors. They kowtow to nobody in the course of their work. What they write has the full backing of their bosses. The Malaysia Nanban writer did his homework on a controversial subject and his article was published with the full knowledge of the editor. It was not a piece of fiction. PPP was upset because the article did not portray the party in a favourable light. Acting like a big bully, it stormed the newspaper office but only succeeded in portraying itself as a sore loser.

The assault on one of Malaysia Nanban journalists has also cast a negative light on the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The NUJ did not condemn the assault on a fellow journalist simply because Malaysia Nanban is not considered a part of the NUJ family. This is bunkum. A journalist is a journalist. You need not be a member of NUJ to be a certified journalist. An attack on a journalist is an attack on the institution of journalism. By keeping mum, NUJ has become an effete organisation.

In its political context, the PPP raid reflects badly on BN because PPP is part of the BN family. If a member of the ruling party can storm a newspaper office with impunity, it would encourage other BN partners to follow the same path. Today they charge into the editorial floor, tomorrow they will torch the building. The BN government does not have a good record of cordial relationship with newspapers which do not take its side. To ask the government then to protect journalists who depict an unflattering picture of its partner is like asking a robber to guard your home.

Today the frontiers of journalism have expanded with new players ever prompt to take up the cudgels on behalf of freedom of expression. There is no cover for wayward politicians to hide under the intense glare of the alternative media. Every wart on the government’s face will be exposed. Nowadays, people want to know the truth and newspapers, printed or online, are there to give them the cold, hard facts. PPP and its thuggish followers can act and talk tough, but they cannot gag a newspaper doing its job. They have no say in journalism.


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