Press freedom is threatened as much by authoritarian regimes closing down newspapers and detaining reporters, as by media practitioners who abuse their power by publishing lies and refusing to respect the principle of a right of reply.
Press freedom is a fundamental human rights enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Many countries with press freedom enjoy not only basic human rights but also a functioning democracy and economic prosperity.
It is no accident that the country that respects press freedom the most also happens to be among the wealthiest and its citizens live with human dignity.
Malaysia celebrates a bleak World Press Freedom Day today with the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Border (RSF) ranking Malaysia at a historic low of 147 out of 180 countries.
Malaysia’s ranking was even two spots below that of the military junta of Myanmar. In 2014, Malaysia fared worse than Brunei (117), Thailand (130), Indonesia (130), Cambodia (132) and Myanmar (145).
The Freedom House's Press Freedom Report for 2013 also categorised Malaysia as "not free".
In the report, Malaysia also received a "downward trend arrow" due to "rampant electoral fraud and structural obstacles to block the opposition from winning power".
Clearly, these are institutional issues where the government deliberately chokes off press freedom to prevent any expose of abuses of power and corruption through draconian laws, such as the Sedition Act, Printing Presses & Publication Act and the Official Secrets Act.
However, another stratagem is to demonise the opposition by publishing lies without fear of punishment or just simply refusing to give them the right of reply.
Press freedom is threatened as much by authoritarian regimes that close down newspapers and detain reporters, as by media practitioners who abuse their power by publishing lies and refusing to respect the principle of a right of reply.
It is not easy to fight to abolish such draconian laws just as it is not easy to correct lies and uphold the right of reply.
While defamation actions may be necessary to differentiate lies from facts, the perquisites of rule of law and an independent judiciary must exist to successfully punish those who trade in falsehoods and slander. – May 3, 2014.
* Lim Guan Eng is Penang chief minister.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.