We live in an age where information is easily attainable at the tip of our fingers. Gone are the days when you would need to dig into treasure troves of books and ancient scrolls, or cross seas to obtain or deliver valuable news or information. This is all thanks to modern technology and new media. Yet, even with the ease of access to information as well as the ease of publishing, how much of it do we know is unsuppressed honest truth? In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day, let us look into what freedom of press is and what that would entail.
Freedom of press is derived from freedom of speech and expression, which is considered a universal human right. It is defined as the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers” according to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As for our Malaysian context, Article 10, 1(a) of the Federal Constitution states, “every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression” however the following Clauses 2, 3, and 4 pose restrictions as to maintain the peace, security, and morality of the public and the Federation. Flowing from those definitions, the freedom of press is simply the freedom for the media to exercise freedom of speech and expression – that which helps constitute a democratic society.
So we have the freedom to express ourselves – but are we really free? As in, free to say anything at all without suffering repercussions? Just because we have freedom, it does not mean we can go wild and end up inflicting damage, chaos, and destruction because we freely and purposely said the wrong things. First of all, especially in the case of press and media, misinformation is a big no-no. Aside from that, content and information which promotes slander and defamation against anyone, any ethnic group, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and also threatens the peace and security of the country is subject to prosecution. Hence why we have Clauses 2, 3, and 4 of Article 10. Case in point, the right to freedom of speech has its boundaries to ensure responsibility and curb misuse.
The existence of such a right alongside boundaries are not without their share of challenges. While it is easier to monitor and keep the public accountable for their words and actions, struggles arise when the people in power decide to use the law to control and suppress others’ freedoms for their own gain. While freedom of speech and expression within the bounds of Article 10 of the Constitution is restricted enough already, the passing of more recent laws such as the Anti-Fake News Act in 2018 would further stifle opposing views, at least at the time. Circumstances such as these would see freedom of speech, expression, and press as well as the laws surrounding them nothing more than weapons for political warfare.
In a nutshell, freedom of press is a freedom which derives itself from the universal human right to free speech and expression. Freedom of press is the right of press publications and the media to host opinions and perspectives without interference, and impart information to the masses. These freedoms are important as they are an essential right and dignity to the human person, while also constituting a democratic society. While we are privileged to have the freedom of speech and press, we must also consider to use it responsibly so as to maintain peace and order within society.
While freedom of speech and expression is a right given to all, we need journalists to continue advocating for a free press so that everyone has an equal chance to be heard. If you are that journalist-to-be but don’t know where to begin, you can start by discovering these courses.