Dec 8, 2006

'Report responsibly' - Chandra Muzaffar

(The Sun) KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 7, 2006): While the Malaysian media has so far exercised restraint on reporting ethnic issues, it should not sweep such matters under the carpet, human rights proponent Dr Chandra Muzaffar said today.

The president of the International Movement for Just World said the media should find ways to deal with issues realistically and report sensitive issues like ethnic problems "without hurting the feelings of anyone involved".

"Overall the Malaysian media, may it be print or electronic, do not sensationalise but are sensitive to the country's ethnic texture. In the mainstream media, for example, there had been cases which could be sensationalised but the Malaysian media report things as it is rather than blow them out of proportion."

He said there are three reasons for this

  • there are various laws which media practitioners had to follow
  • media are mostly governed by companies with strong links to the government
  • "We do not have the culture of confronting sensitive issues in public because none of us want trouble."

  • According to Bernama, Chandra said this at a dialogue with local media practitioners, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

    He said although exercising restraint was good, it was equally important that the media develop ways to communicate ethnic issues without inflaming the feelings of any particular race.

    The media, he said, must find ways to deal with reality and report them in such a way that it does not bring about chaos or disorder.

    "For example, the realm of religion, we must be able to use proper avenues to deal with it. Reporting must also be balanced and not one-sided.The only dimension the nation lacks in terms of tackling racial issues are genuine bridge builders and the media must play this role effectively," he added.

    At the same dialogue, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's media studies department lecturer Prof Dr Safar Hashim said although local newspapers and the electronic media did not sensationalise issues, some did test the limits.

    He said up to November this year, the government had issued 115 show cause letters to various media and suspended the publication of three newspapers.

    "Last year, only 15 show cause letters were issued. We must look at the reasons why there had been an increase in the number of show cause letters."

    "Although the Malaysian society is moving forward, we have laws and more importantly the responsiblity to safeguard the ethnic fabric of the country. Being liberalised comes with heavier responsibility, than being governed by the fear of the law," he said.

    He said although certain laws governing the media call for restrained reporting of ethnic issues, media practitioners needed to have a sense of responsiblity in performing their duties.

    "If we think on the ethnic lines, then there is a need for these laws but if we are responsible and think as a Malaysian rather than a Malay, Chinese or Indian, then we do not need these laws. We can loosen or even do away with them."

    Journalists, he said must contribute to the society even if they were accused of sensationalising issues.

    Safar said it took courage to report on ethnic issues, but cautioned the media to bear in mind that "there is a thin line between being courageous and being stupid".

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