Over the decades, working as a journalist for various organisations, I learned one thing: Media freedom is only curtailed when the journalists bend to pressure. That is to say, it is only enforced when the journalists, editors and media owners (they are part of the organisation) does not give in to pressure from any sides.
Nevertheless, I have also found that when I was freelancing for various magazines and working for the BBC radio Network Africa at the same time, i was more vocal.
The same degree of liberty was probably seen in my role as the Asean correspondent for the defunct islamonline.net website – it was in English primarily when it started but turned to an Arabic one later.
It was the days of reformasi (reforms) in Malaysia and I did not munch the words against the authorities with all sorts of articles depicting the culture of fear that reigned during that time.
Now, being the business editor of Malay Mail, one of the three English dailies in Malaysia, I believe I have curtailed my own freedom to write freely and voice my concerns with the liberty that I was used to.
There are various reasons for that. In this posting, I will write about one of the main reasons that journalists in Malaysia are not fighting back against all sorts of media muzzling, news clamping that has resulted in a lack of media freedom.
And it starts with the freedom to earn a descent living to feed one’s family.
Journalism does not pay well, and you will never become rich or super rich if you are a journalist working for a newspaper in Malaysia or elsewhere in the ‘third world’ zones.
Yes, I am saying it. Malaysia is still pretty much a third world country in many ways, this despite the billions of dollars this country churns annually.
Not forgetting the fact that in 3 years time from now, the country will be declared a developed nation simply because its gross national product (GDP) per capita will breach the US$30,000 mark.
Yet, my salary did not contribute to this sudden rise in the GDP per capita, which increased from US$23,000 last year to US$26,000 this year.
Going back to the first point am trying to make here about the reasons why I feel my freedom as a journalist has been curtailed to some extent, I would say that we do not earn that much as an editor in this country.
And this contributes to the need to be wary of what one writes, and wary of the level of criticism one can voice out against the powers that be.
Am I finally working for the pay check, not for the freedom to write, which is the prime reason I became a journalist?
It is a sad, sad, state of affairs that when you do not earn too much, and you need the pay check, you can only do what you are doing to make ends meet.
That is a shame, not only for the journalists in this country, but also for the newspapers and their owners as well as for the people running the country.
it definitely reflects on them and it does not augur good for anyone.
The pressure is there on all journalists working for the print media in particular, be it for the government or the opposition, to toe to the line and at times to kowtow to what the owners, and the editor in chiefs want.
However, there is relief in this day and age.
The relief is that we can still write in blogs, and on social media, and express in many ways – be it with sarcasm or a bit in a cynical manner – the grudges we have against a system that is trying to grind us to a deafening silence.
And the question remains begging: If it was not for my pay check, would I be shouting at the obvious?
Well, I do shout on my blog at Worldfuturetv.com and it gives me the satisfaction that I am not working for a pay check alone, but I am using my position as business editor for a local daily that is perceived as being under the control of the authorities, to voice my opinion on various matters.
But believe it or not, I do also write – when it is necessary – within the columns of the Malay Mail to voice my views on matters of concerns to the people.
I did so with the TPP, a deal that I still criticise and is pretty much against, though I have to do so in such a manner that will muffle the screams while I let out the ugliness of such a monstrous trade-investment-rich-man-win-it-all-deal. The TPP is evil. Point blank.
I did write about the ugliness of the budgetary exercises in the last two or three years. And I am going to say it here: The Budget 2017 in Malaysia was devoid of true policy statements.
Arguably, some would come back or hit back and state that I am missing the point, but then my answer would be that: The only policy statement in that budget was the fact the Prime Minister urged all poor Malaysias to become a Uber driver in order to increase their earnings.
Other than that…it was a borrowed statement from his previous budgetary speeches.
Try to prove me wrong, and I will show you that you are a slug, if not a leech.
And that is what journalists need to do, to press on for media freedom in this country.
The other reasons why journalists feel media freedom is curtailed in this country will be dealt with in future opinion pieces.