Let there be freedom to listen


BN MEDIA STRATEGY: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak speaking during a live broadcast from SelangorBN.FM in Shah Alam recently. — Bernama photo

All governments – communist, fascist, dictatorship, democratic or even theocratic – possess propaganda tools such as the radio, television, newspapers and other publications, websites, Internet, Twitter, Facebook and what have you – to inform or communicate with the ruled.

Good governments use these media to inculcate patriotism or love for the country.Bad governments abuse them to indoctrinate the ruled to love their rulers rather than the institutions of government, or to oppress or suppress dissent or decimate any one else having a different point of view.

After the print media, one of the most effective tools used to be the radio before the days of the TV and other modern so called social media. In the 1950s, radio was about the only medium that reached the far flung rural areas in Sarawak.For almost 60 years we have been indoctrinated by one station – the government owned station, Radio Sarawak, later Radio Television Malaysia.

So when signals from two radio stations pop out of thin air and dominate the airwaves for several hours each day in the rural areas, some politicians lose a sense of perspective, not to say, of fair play.

The two-year old Radio Free Sarawak and Radio Kenyalang, barely three months old, are under severe attack by governing politicians – which gives a lot of free publicity to the stations.

What a counterproductive move, that was!

As a result, many people who couldn’t be bothered about their existence are now curious and may want to listen to them just to find out if they are really poisonous as claimed. Before the stations are shut down, I suggest any person who is broadminded should listen to them and evaluate the quality of their broadcasts before condemning them.

If they are amateurish and ineffective, why take the trouble to jam the broadcasts?

They will not last if nobody listens to them any more. Why bother to demand the police to take action against what are basically political intrigues or foibles? Already, the police have their hands full in dealing with real crime; police time should be better utilised in bringing kidnappers and murderers to book instead of spending it in catching the alleged defamers, libelers and slanderers. They are not criminals unless the radio stations have become seditious advocating the overthrow of the legitimate government by force of arms.

That freedom of expression has limitations, I agree absolutely.

Lest my readers should go away with the impression that freedom of expression is without limitations, let me state clearly here and now that I do not condone libel or slander without justification, on a privileged occasion or on the basis of fair comment in the public interest. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Sedition being criminal in nature is never condoned; treason is never justified in a country like ours.

If one thinks that his or her reputation has been tarnished through the publication of a statement which tends to lower him or her in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally, one does not rush to the police; the police deal with violations of criminal law and public order, not civil cases.

Unless the allegations by the two radio stations verge on security problems – for instance, people are being aroused to take up arms against the legitimate government and its institutions, these outfits should be allowed to carry on with their broadcasts uninterrupted.

They are doing a good service to a lot of people in the rural areas who have no access to the Internet, or even, in certain
areas of the state, to the government- controlled radio station’s signals.

However, the moment they cross the red line, the appropriate law is already in place to deal with the situation – defamation or sedition as the case may be. Otherwise, there is no need to harass them, let alone involve the police. It may be perceived of enlisting the police help to side with you against your political rivals when the police should be neutral in political matters.

These are party organs

A political party worth its salt should possess propaganda organs. Both the radio stations are organs of political parties – RFS advocating the cause of Pakatan Rakyat and RK is promoting its own policies. Its agenda is not to form the government on its own. It can’t because of its limited number of seat it will contest. If luck has it, it may help form a government. Who knows?

Discerning and broadminded listeners, listen to their broadcasts and judge for themselves. If you are innocent of their allegations, switch off your set.

If either or both these stations cannot influence voters to vote for their respective candidates at the next elections, it would be better to leave them alone, unless, repeat, they are being deliberately seditious by threatening the security and the sovereignty of the Nation. I would be among the first to condemn them.

For the past 60 years we had been listening to one station, the only source of information and its news and views. It has become the only source of truth apart from the Holy books of all religions. So long have we been indoctrinated by this one station one that when Radio Free Sarawak and lately Radio Kenyalang penetrated the rural areas, the folk suddenly found an alternative source of news and information. So why begrudge the enjoyment of that freedom to listen to alternative news and views?

RTM has been urged to counter the allegations made by the two stations, but RTM is funded by the taxpayers and as such should not be abused for political purposes.

It would be fair for a political party in the government to start a radio station of its own like the Opposition BN in Selangor has done; its Radio BNFM is being financed by its members and supporters, not out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

This is an additional tool to the so- called array of mainstream media under central government control – the privilege of any incumbent administration. These are the Goliaths and they should be able to stuff out the tiny Davids easily.

The Prime Minister who doubles as the Selangor BN chairman and liaison chief in his broadcast had said that many problems had cropped up in Selangor especially those related to the empty promises made (by the opposition) during the last general election in 2008 (Borneo Post, Jan 18).

That’s a fair comment.

And two can play that game.

Similar views about empty promises have also been expressed by the interviewees from certain parliamentary constituencies in Sarawak and were aired by the two stations. What’s the difference?  The Prime Minister has every right to air his views on this matter of empty promises, so has a voter in Sarawak in respect of the same subject matter.

Has the Menteri Besar of Selangor reported Najib’s statement to the police or threatened to shut down the BNfm station?

However, when the two radio stations relayed views of their interviewees on the same topic they were accused of telling lies and poisoning the minds of the rural people.

“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” – from the Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs.

Using similar tools of trade, political rivals can prove each other wrong with facts and figures, word for word, issue for issue, verse for verse, chapter for chapter.

The law of libel and slander is available to those who wish to sue or be sued; the sedition law will spring into action if any one crosses the red line.

That the time to rush to the police station to lodge a report against the radio station that violates the law. Not any old time.Repeat, we must not begrudge the freedom of the rural listeners who wish to find out alternative sources of information and keep the people under the yolk of perpetual ignorance.

Be fair. Let them have the freedom to listen, at least.