Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Responsibility for free speech

I have never had any doubt that Malaysia has liberal free speech policies. What's the proof? Just look at the kind of crap that the Malaysia press is ready to carry about Mr Abdul Ghani Othman's accusation against Singapore for causing massive floods in Johor recently and you should be convinced of the veracity of this claim.

On the other hand, it says a lot for the Malaysia bar when they were willing to host a rebuttal by Singapore's Today newspaper on their very own website - a rebuttal against the claims of the Chief Minister of Johor, no less. Even its press - no less than Bernama and a newspaper in the East of Malaysia (Sabah) did the same. So from the Singapore perspective, part of the Malaysian press has been balanced and fair. We cannot realistically expect every and all newspapers to behave the same. In fact, Bernama and the Malaysia Bar are practicing the very principles that Singapore has espoused - which is for the press, whether local or foreign, to publish Singapore's own account of the issue.

But of course, Malaysians, and especially Malaysian bloggers will disagree. They hold that cyberspeech and cyberpublishing is immune from the laws of mere mortals which still print newspapers for a living. That is why the law suite by the New Straits Time Publishing (NSTP) against two bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Encik Ahirudin Attan has garnered so much opposition among Malaysian bloggers and news watchers. A fund has even been set up to pay for defence of these two gentlemen and there is much handwringing and drumbeating over the whole affair.

I will be the first to admit that I am not clear about the details of the suite. In fact, I cannot be bothered. So I am not going to venture any opinion on who is right and who is wrong. To many people, 'David' should always be 'right' because he is being bullied by 'Goliath'. But since when has this taken on the status of a virtual 'law'? What any fair minded person would suspect is that the truth lies somewhere in-between. It is good that Malaysia has decided to resort to its law courts to settle this dispute over against a lynching party, whatever form that might have taken.

If Malaysians, and in particular, Malaysia bloggers, do not believe in their system of justice and due process, then the country will really be in trouble.

Let he/she who has thrown the first word answer for what he/she has said.

I am a blogger, but I do not take myself too seriously when I am on and within the rarefied air of cyberspace. I land once in a while to feel the ground.