Like a double-edged sword…


05.02.2021 P13 – YANGON **
The handphone – a weapon for good, and for evil. — AFP file photo

I AM referring to the handphone.

Yes, the wonder gadget in your paw now and to which screen your eyes have been glued since the time you stayed in the car while your wife was doing the shopping.

It is both a boon, as well as a bane.

A boon

Twenty-five years ago, I had never thought that it would be possible for me to talk to my relatives thousands of miles away in countries with different time zones and climatic conditions.

It was possible to do so after the tropo-scatter station on Gunung Serapi, Matang, had become operational.

Ever since then, this family tradition has been observed at every major event like a birthday celebration by another medium – through the Cloud.

Last Christmas I was able to converse with them again, this time in person, via the Zoom!

A wonderful experience; a marvellous invention!

Now that your favourite songs and music are available from the handphone, it is not necessary to buy any songs on tapes or on discs anymore.

I don’t know if any counter in town is still selling them.

There must be thousands of copies of such tapes and discs kept at home by the fans.

I have a few. They can still be played on the radio sets with recorders, but are practically discarded in favour of the handphone.

The handphone will be with us for some time to come, but be warned, it is also a bane depending on how the owner handles it – for good or for evil.

Nowadays almost everybody who owns one is a reporter, a photo-journalist and a political commentator, religious preacher, advertiser – all rolled into one.

I have been following some broadcasts made by the YouTubers via phone.

Some freelance operators produce interesting reports of the touristic nature. They travel to the interior of Borneo and do running commentaries of what they see and meet. This type of reporting is most educational.

So are some private TV channels that produce extracts of history of certain places and personalities; these are to be verified with other materials written about the same subjects.
Otherwise, they are harmless. No elements of hate speech or fake news.

I like the channels teaching us how to cook: their recipes at the click of the button.

The bane

My complaint is that, with the exception of a few, the owners of private TV channels are having a free rein in terms of taking advantage of the freedom of speech, as if Malaysia had no law covering libel and slander and sedition.

In fact, we have all these laws in place – a number of people have got into trouble with these laws.

There is too much hate speech being broadcast from those channels on a daily basis.

What can the government do about regulating these broadcasts?

I read in The Borneo Post of May 15, 2023, that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) would be stepping up monitoring of fake news, hate speech ahead of the state polls in Peninsular Malaysia.

I don’t know how they would handle this problem other than resorting to the use of the relevant laws governing hate speech.

If I may suggest, instead of clamping down on them using the provisions of those existing laws, it would be better if the government, through its Unity Ministry, would call all the bloggers and the owners of private channels for a talk.

Brainstorm with them on the importance of prudence in exercising the right to freedom of speech and the importance of avoiding injury to the feelings of other people.

Talk to them about the importance of self-censorship for the good of their channels in the long run.

It would be unfair to say that they do not know about the limitation to the freedom of expression, but on their own, they tend to get carried away easily because unlike the established media organisations, they have no editors to kill any unprintable report.

Where there is no one else to check their exuberance, they think that anything goes.

Having said that, several of them are responsible reporters, fully aware of the consequence of their acts as being libellous or seditious.

Like in any other occupation, there are black sheep. Their number should be kept to a minimum to save the reputation of the Fourth Estate.

Charter for media fraternity

I think there must come a time when all media practitioners produce a charter of their own.

Several years ago, I suggested to Toman Mamora of Sarawak Tribune to initiate formation of a press council to regulate the behaviour of media practitioners, both those of print and social media.

I’m still keen on the idea – after all, the Fourth Estate is for every practitioner in all forms of mass communications. Its raison d’etre must be sustained.

During election time, the social media channels are useful tools for the candidates to use to canvas for votes or for disinformation purposes, as the case may be.

Politicians with lots of funds use them as disseminators of information on their election manifestos and other propaganda materials.

This is the time when tempers flare easily and the man with the handphone has all the time in the world to do harm or good, just by clicking on the button.

Somebody’s reputation is being attacked.

They must be self-regulated

Then you will find people suing each other for damages amounting to millions of ringgit.

It’s easier to say ‘see you in court’ than to go to court itself. It costs time and money.

We are supposed to live in a country enjoying peace and harmony. Personal attacks causing serious damage to the reputation of a person has become so rampant that the courts are full of civil cases for settlement.

What a waste of time for the judges, and a waste of time and money for the litigants!

Who do you think will benefit most from the suit?