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‘New hope for the media to enjoy press freedom,’ SOCCOM head

KOTA KINABALU: There is new hope for the media in Malaysia to enjoy a higher level of press freedom.

Leong (left) giving his talk on role of the press and press freedom at seminar organised by the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah), in Kota Kinabalu on Sept 12, 2019.

This was the opinion of Joseph Leong, head of the Social Communications Commission (SOCCOM) of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, who spoke on the role of the press and on press freedom at a recent seminar here.

He noted that since the 14th general elections (GE14) top national and state leaders had pledged that the government would uphold the principle of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

“This is well and good. As for the media, we hope that these good intentions shall be reflected by the way members of the press are being treated,” he said.

According to him, the government has to be seen to take positive actions that allow openess and free access to information.

Datuk Jaujan Sambakong, Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of of Local Government and Housing, represented the Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, as guest of honour at the opening ceremony.

Leong said that there had been times in the past when Malaysia was seen as a fine example of a nation where peoples of diverse beliefs and cultural background could live in peace and harmony.

However, from time to time racial and religious polarisation rise to alarming heights.

“Instead of being actively engaged in seeking common ground and creating harmony despite the many ethnic walls that separate the peoples, there are those who seem determined to fortify such walls.”

He said the press have been there, faithfully reporting and recounting these good, bad and ugly deeds and events in Malaysia.

Joe Leong said that since he was invited to give the talk in the name of the Catholic Church, he recalled the so-called “Allah” issue that raged through the nation for months in 2013-14.

He viewed it as “a sad episode” in Malaysia’s history. He had written on the matter then saying that it was totally improper and unwise to try and give a name to God.

“When the creator of heaven and earth spoke to Moses at the burning bush, he had clearly said that it is pointless for man to ask him for a name, declaring that ‘I am, who I am‘.”

Touching on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, Leong highlighted some of the existing laws seen to be stiffling press freedom in the country.

He said one of the key Malaysian legislations often cited as curtailing freedom of expression is the Printing Press and Publications Act.

Under that Act, the Minister of Home Affairs reserves the right to impose a list of conditions in the licence and/or permits of publications. He reserves the right “to revoke or suspend such licence for any period he considers desireable”.

Such conditions of publications, Leong pointed out, apply not only to daily newspapers, but to other publictions, like the Catholic Sabah, a fornightly tabloid.

From time to time, the editor of this official publication of the Catholic Church in the state would receive notices from officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs questioning why they had printed certain prohibited words.

In his half-hour presentation at the seminar organised by the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah), Leong spoke on how the press and freedom of the press could enhance the check and balance of democracy in Malaysia.

“Indeed, the press is playing an active role in enhancing check and balance to ensure that the human rights and democratic rights of the peoples in Malaysia are sustained.”

He said nation building is a long and hard journey and saying that the Federation of Malaysia has only entered into her 56th year of existence.

“Looking at recent events across the country, the road ahead shall not be an easy one,” he added.

A panel of nine speakers presented papers and spoke on how to strengthen and restructure the critical and core institutions of democary in Malaysia from the Sabah perspective.

Group photo of speakers and participants of the IDS seminar with: Jaujan Sambakong (6th from left, front row), Simon Sipaun on his left and Leong (2nd from right) shortly after the opening of the seminar on Sept 12, 2019.

In his opening remarks, Leong paid tribute to Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, chairman of IDS (Sabah) as “one of the post powerful advocates of human rights and democratic rights in Malaysia”.

SOCCOM is grateful to Juliana Ringgingon, a Senior Research Associate of IDS and the organising chaiman of the seminar, for making it possible for the Commission to give its views on the role of the press in Malaysia.

Among Catholic officials who present were: Dominic Lim, Executive Secretary at the office of the Archdiocese; and Patricia Regis, a long-serving member of SOCCOM. –

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