As electoral reform will free the press, journalists should support change

Joint Press Statement on 7th November 2007
Released by:
Wong Chin Huat
Writers Alliance for Media Independence

V. Gayathry
Executive Director
Centre for Independent Journalism

The Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) stresses that electoral reforms are the key to press freedom. As one of the short term demands of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) is to free the media, journalists have the moral duty to support the rally at the Dataran Merdeka this Saturday (November 10) beginning 3 pm.
WAMI and CIJ urge all members of the media community to put on a yellow ribbon or other yellow items as a sign of solidarity. They should also ensure that the readers and audience are correctly informed of the electoral reforms movement.
WAMI and CIJ stress that, the freedom of expression and freedom of information require democracy which itself is threatened by electoral corruptions. The encroachment of press freedom is in fact the consequence of flawed elections.
When the ruling coalition defend the restrictive media-related laws such as the Internal Security Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, they often claim that such laws were enacted with popular mandate.
However, would the Parliament be dominated, now at an unprecedented height of 91%, by one party, had there be no phantom voters, no postal voting, no multiple voting, no electoral targeting in development plans, no vote buying? And without a one-party-dominated Parliament, would the Executive dare to intervene and suspend media organizations at whim?
As a matter of fact, the fourth short-term demand by BERSIH is fair media access for parties. In other words, tens of thousand Malaysians will meet this Saturday amongst other to liberate the press. If lawyers can walk for justice, how can journalists stay away from its own cause?
WAMI and CIJ point out that the freedom of peaceful assembly, together with freedom of speech and freedom of association, are the most fundamental civil liberties and guaranteed by the Article 10 of our Federal Constitution. The battles for all these freedom is therefore not separable.
When the authority tries to mislead the public with technical issues like permit for the gathering, reporters and editors have the duty to correctly inform to the citizenry of their rights.
WAMI and CIJ stress that, a profession is more than an occupation or a craft to earn a living. It has its moral purposes. For journalism, the mission is communication of truth.
Beyond the pursuit of press freedom, journalists should also support social reform and be the agent of changes. When the citizens march on the street this Saturday, journalists must consider themselves no lesser citizens than anyone else.
Journalists must be part of the movement to democratize the nation and change her politics. WAMI and CIJ hope all members of the media community would put on a yellow ribbon, the sign of Malaysia’s press freedom movement since 2001, or other yellow items from today onwards. Those who are not duty should themselves join fellow Malaysians at the gathering at Dataran Merdeka.
* * *
WAMI and CIJ are amongst BERSIH’s 26 NGO members when the coalition was formed in 23 November 2006. Today the coalition consists of 70 NGOs and 5 parties and it is still growing. BERSIH’s other three demands are the clean-up of electoral roll, the abolition of postal voting for military and police personnel, the employment of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting. BERSIH’s long term demands cover administrative neutrality, campaign finance and electoral system amongst others.