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Merdeka Day thoughts on media freedom

KUALA Lumpur — Malaysians celebrated Merdeka Day yesterday marking 49 years of the country’s independence from British colonial rule amid brewing racial and religious tensions that threaten the already fragile unity of Malaysia’s multi-racial society.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi acknowledged the situation in his independence day message as he appealed for unity, respect and cooperation among the country’s ethnic groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians, stressing that the strength of Malaysians lies in maintaining their solidarity.

But beyond race-based political problems, some consider issues pertaining to the rights of contemporary Malaysians, particularly freedoms of speech and expression, to be as serious and paramount, and hence deserve reflecting on in light of Merdeka Day.

Youth leaders like Lee Khai Loon, convenor of Youth for Change (Y4C), for instance, rue the divide-and-rule system the country inherited from the British that remains deeply rooted in Malaysian society. “Independence should not only mean the sovereignty of the country, but how the people live. Are they living in dignity and free from fear? Are they free from control by the authority?” he asks.

Steven Gan, founder and editor-in-chief of Malaysiakini, the country’s acknowledged independent online news site, says that Malaysians, rather than focusing on things that divide them, should instead find common aspirations in democracy, press freedom, and human rights.

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September 1, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | Leave a comment