Does the government really interfere with press freedom?


Does the government really interfere with press freedom?
By Zan Azlee

I guess the story of Mustapha Kamil, the New Straits Times former Group Editor, resigning from his position as a stand for his principles is well known throughout the country by now.

It was all over the press, both locally and internationally, last week and it created a stir because he said he resigned due to ‘increasing authoritarian stand by the government toward media’.

Mustapha explained in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that one of the deciding factors for his resignation was the fact that international news organisations were being nominated for prestigious journalism awards like the Pulitzer, for stories about the 1MDB scandal.

He couldn’t take the fact that a foreign newspaper could be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on an issue that is right under his nose.

Although he had worked at the newspaper, which is owned by Umno, for almost 25 years, he mentions that it has never been as authoritarian as it is now.

According to Mustapha, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) regularly wrote press releases regarding 1MDB that denied other reports and sent it to the paper expecting them to print it as is. He also added that “before 1MDB, there was more freedom to do our job.”.

Out of the sixteen years I have worked as a journalist, from a reporter right till being an editor, I have never been in the privileged position of being senior enough to be privy of any dealings with the PMO.

But of course, a bulk of that time has been as a freelancer. And as a freelancer, you just produce your stories and submit it. Rarely are you involved with the overall editorial direction of the organisations.

I have heard of these dealings of course, but I can’t confirm it because I have no direct involvement and I am not one to report on hearsay.

But with Mustapha, a very senior figure in the local journalism industry coming out and actually admitting it, maybe others would be willing to share too.

So how about it? Any senior editors out there want to let us know if it really does happen?

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