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Friday, November 26, 2010

Selangor launches no-KDN and free newspaper, under political patronage

Selangor Times puts a test of free media to the governmentSelangor Times, a free weekly newspaper with a focus on community news, went on the streets today in a test of media freedom and setting the scene for a possible contest of wills between the Selangor government and the federal Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN) which licences the publication of newspapers.

The newspaper is supported by the Selangor government but produced as a private initiative, with a team of experienced news journalists led by KL Chan, formerly of The Edge.

The editorial team includes familiar names such as Deborah Loh (Nut Graph) and Neville Spykerman (Malaysiakini), and veterans James Ang (New Straits Times) and designer Jimmy Lim (once with The Star).

Among the contributors are other familiar names such as Patrick Teoh, Wong Chin Huat, Fahmi Fadzi, the Loyar Burok website, and civil rights lawyer Edmund Bons My Constitution campaign lending an air of the usual suspects to the venture.

The birth of Selangor Times (with executive councillor Teresa Kok a very active midwife) puts to the test a section of the notorious Printing Presses and Publications Act under which publications produced for the federal and state governments do not need the annual publishing permits required of all newspapers and magazines.

Media and opposition activists, principally Monash Universitys Wong Chin Huat and lawyer Haris Ibrahim, hold that this section provides a loophole to get around the requirement to obtain a newspaper licence before publication.

Wong and Haris have campaigned for the Pakatan Raykat-led governments of Penang and Selangor to make use of the section to produce their own newspaper in the face of negative reporting mainly by the traditional media! , almost all of which are owned by Barisan Nasional parties or BN-friendly publishers.

Earlier this year, they submitted a policy paper to the Selangor govenment setting out their views of how to make use of the loophole.

Pakatan Rakyat politicians have called for reform of media laws and licensing and have promised to uphold media freedom when in power but the actions of the Kedah, Penang and Perak governments in banning several media houses from press conferences has put their credibility to the test.

The Selangor government has also come under criticism for not doing enough for media freedom. At the launch of the Selangor governments anniversary book The Road to Reform in September, the menteri besar, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, sportingly sat through two hours of highly critical comments from speakers and from the floor.

Jacqueline Ann Surin of Nut Graph also flayed the Selangor government for the blatant propaganda put out by its media outlets such as Selangor Kini and TV Selangor.

To politicians faced with the constant hammering carried out by Umno-owned newspapers, the need to put forth their views and to defend their political actions is always uppermost.

Living with a siege mentality means that it is almost impossible for politicians of either side to view criticism dispassionately: they live in a binary world where everything is black or white, for or against, with no middle ground.

Thus members of the Selangor government were astonished to find themselves being accused to not living up to their promises, and especially of producing propaganda.

Presumably the publication of Selangor Times, and its focus on community news rather than the political and party personalities, as well as the involvement of non-partisan journalists, is an attempt at redressing the balance.

A social issue affecting all Selangor residents. And also a political hot potato between Pakatan and Barisan.

By sticking to community affairs and social issues, the paper will have a greater chance of gaining credibility and acceptance among the middle-class reading public and, more importantly for its own survival, acceptance among the business community, whose willingness to advertise in the paper will determine its viability.

The lack of a clearly partisan agenda in its news coverage will also place the paper in a better position to fend off any attempt by KDN to shut it down on the ground that it does not have a valid KDN permit.

The Home Ministry has in the past acted swiftly to put pressure on the official publications of Pakatan Rakyat parties Harakah, the Rocket, and Suara Keadilan and especially against Suara Keadilan, which suspended publication after the Ministry conveniently dawdled on renewing its permit.

The KDN permit is often wielded as an Umno political weapon, instead of an administrative necessity, and editors and publishers often face punitive action when coverage in their publications does not meet Umnos political objectives.

By lending official support to Selangor Times, the Selangor government has demonstrated a further commitment to press freedom, coming on the heels of the Freedom of Information Bill which it hopes to enact early next year.

However, the fact that Selangor Times depends on the Selangor governments patronage will make it dependent on the goodwill of Pakatan Rakyat politicians as well as the goodwill of KDN officials and the Home Ministry itself.

The Selangor governments backing for Selangor Times, while creditable, must be recognised as only a half-measure and only makes it more imperative to press for full media reform.

Selangor Times is a free newspaper. But it is not yet a free press. As long as the press must depend on political patronage just to exist, let alone prosper it is just living in a different ! kennel.< /p>

2010 uppercaise

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