Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Abdullah expounds use of freedom of speech


Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday the freedom of speech and expression cannot be used as an excuse to violate and abuse the reputation and dignity of a people. Neither can it be used to “slander and libel or to defame religious or religious symbols,” he added. “If this was the case, there would be no laws of defamation or libel and laws against those who incite racial or ethnic violence,” he said in his keynote address at the two-day Asia Media Summit, here. The text of his speech was read out by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. Abdullah said that even the most freedom-loving people in this world knew that there was no such thing as unlimited freedom. “Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but it is not absolute,” he said. However, he said, it was difficult to ascertain the limits of freedom of speech and expression. “Where do you draw the line between disrespect and dissent and between opinions and opinions that defame or are seditious? “This is where I believe that readers of both traditional and new media must have the knowledge and maturity to sieve between the facts and the innuendos and unsubstantiated accusations,” he said. Abdullah said the Government continued to support ethical journalism and the responsible corporations that undertook it. “The media, as we all know and accept, is central to nation-building— how it is conceived, promoted and finally accomplished. It is also central to good governance,” he said. The Prime Minister said the fundamental consideration was of course that “we have a media that is not only free but that is responsible as well”. Abdullah said: “We also desire that media does not undermine racial and religious harmony to the extent where national security and public order become threatened. “This is not always easy when we have media that cater to different ethnic constituencies with their special religious sensitivities,” he said. Touching on religion, Abdullah said different societies could hold to different values based on their dominant culture and historical experience, and “it may be all right, indeed it may be a matter of principle, for some nations with a secular tradition to be able to caricature the prophets of God. “But not here. We should not be shy of our cultural norms nor be abashed of our voluntary self-censorship in respect of them. It is not a moral or media sin to respect prophets,” he said. Abdullah said that in a globalised world where news travels in the blink of an idea, and is accessible to all, cultural insensitivities and arrogance can lead cultures to clash and nations to collide. On the challenges of new media, Abdullah said he believed that the traditional media can remain at the leading edge of providing content even as it loses its monopoly on the people’s attention. “Although some Netizens come quite close, quality journalism is still by far the domain of old media. Democracies still need the traditional press to hire the professionals whose job it is to discover and disseminate the truth. “It is with this in mind that I urge you not to be too taken in by the bells and whistles of technology but to hold fast to your established virtues of accuracy, intelligence, fairness and grit. These are the values that set you apart from the excess of information now upon us. These are your competitive advantages in the anarchic environment of the new age,” he said. Touching on criminal defamation, Abdullah said Malaysia also needs laws to protect the people from such defamation, and it also needs laws that protect core institutions from seditious attacks. “I do not see these laws as curbs on freedom. Rather, they are essential for the healthy functioning of our society,” he said. The Prime Minister said that though this “may cost us a few decimal points on the World Press Freedom Index, which is based on specific assumptions and premises, our security and the well-being of our society takes precedence.” - Bernama