February 21st, 2006 by Hafiz Noor Shams
Sarawak Tribune made itself infamous in Malaysia by publishing the 12 cartoons that were produced by The Jutland Post. After so much pressure, Sarawak Tribune closed down. And now, New Straits Times (NST), a newspaper which garners greater influence than Sarawak Tribute in Malaysia, published a Non Sequitur comic strip that tried to squeeze the humor out of the controversy started by a rightwing Danish newspaper. Apparently, some Malaysians got upset by a comic strip that doesn’t even start to draw Muhammad, the Islamic prophet. And guess what those Malaysians want?
They want to censor the NST. Even those bloggers that claim to speak for free speech.
To me, the comic does not even come close to the level of The Jutland Post. The strip doesn’t even make fun of the prophet. But that is not the case and I doubt those that are pushing for censorship care about that. This is not a case whether I, or anybody, loving or abhorring the strip. This is a case of free press and speech.
Regardless, the Malaysian government however risks of being hypocritical to the offended by the strip if the government won’t act against NST. I’d rather have a hypocritical government than living a society that develops a knack for censorship.
If a person is actually for free press and free speech, that person shouldn’t and wouldn’t want NST to be censored, regardless of how NST had reacted to the suspension of Sarawak Tribune. So, if you’re one of those out there that support the move to censor NST, please, don’t call yourself as a person that is for free speech or free press. Else, you would be as hypocritical as your government.
Those that are for free press and speech should defend NST from any censorship. This is especially so when NST is one of Malaysia’s principle newspapers. If we allow NST to be censored, what do you think will happen to the other papers?
Think of the scenario Singapore. Alright, alright. Just taking a cheap shot. Sorry Singaporeans. I love you all!
Let’s do it better. Think Union of Soviet Socialist Republic. Of People’s Republic of China. Or North Korea. We’ll be in league with them. Hell, our ranking in Reporters’ Without Borders would probably take a nose dive.
A systematic erosion of free press. Is that what you want?
I know we should strive for consistency. But do we want a government that censors everything for the sake of consistency? The only consistency here is the continuing erosion of free press and speech and I don’t want that consistency.
If you want consistency, then think in the way that “if NST is allowed to offend some people that and gets away, then Sarawak Tribune should be allowed to operate“. Not in the way of “if Sarawak Tribune’s license was revoked because it offended other people, then so should NST’s.”
Observe the difference.
In this scenario, New Straits Times is a city wall. If the city wall is breached, there goes free press in Malaysia. Therefore, think before you speak. Think before you take the next step. Free press and free speech are at stake here.