The right to free speech is one of those rights that affirm the dignity of human beings as creatures of free will. It is every persons birthright. There should therefore be no question of anyone having to demand it from some authority, as Malaysians have been doing for decades. That is nothing short of ridiculous in a society that claims to be practising democracy, which is supposed to be a system of government that upholds the dignity of the human person.
Lately we have been hearing some frightening statements from the government that show once again that freedom of speechor its manifestation as freedom of the pressdoes not have its rightful place in Najib Tun Razaks transformation agenda.
Communication and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek spoke about positive and negative uses of online social media with a warning that the government might decide to ban them if negative uses were to lead to anger and tension among the people. To his credit, he did say that the government would seek the views of the people beforehand.
But then the views of a large section of Malaysians will be informed by the BN press, BN radio and BN television. Many do not have access to alternative sources of information or enough opportunities to hear arguments against positions taken by BN ideologues and spin masters. BN leaders, of course, will dispute this, pointing to the circulation of newspapers published by opposition parties and the availability of allegedly pro-opposition news portals. What it will not admit is that these alternative sources always operate under fear of repression, such as happened to Harakah just before the May 5 general election.
It is interesting that in his list of examples of positive uses of social media, Shabery left out education. It is possible that it slipped his mind or the editor of the Bernama report that quoted him decided to shorten the list. But it is conceivable that years of listening to BN propaganda have conditioned his mind against mentioning this particular benefit of free speech.
It may be unfair to accuse BN of deliberately suppressing the educationthe mental developmentof the masses. However, its policies and behavior vis–vis free speech, do lend credence to the allegation that it is in its interest to limit at least the political education of Malaysians.
To be fair to Najib and his transformation agenda, many Malaysians are now no longer as afraid as they used to be to exercise their right to freedom of assembly. No doubt, some provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act have something to do with this. But one could argue that the law came about as a result of activists deciding to assert their birthright to freedom instead of begging for it from an authority that presumes to have control over it. The courage of those activists, in turn, can be attributed to their political education through the alternative media.
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Free speech and education