— A Blueprint for the Making and Broadcast of
Documentaries on National Issues
We are a group of media practitioners who are concerned with the future of our country. We wish to see freedom, equality, justice, zero corruption, transparency and inclusiveness prevail in our society. Through documentaries, a communication medium set to become more and more important in the future, it is hoped that major national issues that affect the rights and interests of the people can be propagated. These are issues that the people need to know and understand. Through these documentaries, the people will understand their rights and duties and be encouraged and motivated to embark on political actions that will promote the democratic process and change the destiny of the nation.
GENESIS OF THE BLUEPRINT
The March 8 political tsunami in 2008 ushered in a new era in the politics of Malaysia. The people sent a strong signal to a government that for 50 years had not shown any respect to their views, i.e. “the people can no longer tolerate oppression, lack of free expression and unequal treatment”. Regrettably, the Najib administration not only ignored these calls for reform but also blamed the Barisan Nasional’s poor electoral results on insufficient control of the main stream media.
The Barisan Nasional, through the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture and RTM which it regards as its own, imposes on the print media, radio and TV stations supervision and censorship that are even stricter than those of the Abdullah era. In May this year, Malaysia slipped further in the World Press Freedom Rankings published on the eve of the World Press Freedom Day. Among ASEAN countries, we lag behind East Timor, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and even Cambodia; and these countries are poorer than us.
Malaysia’s position in World Press Freedom Rankings
Year Position Number of countries surveyed
2003 71 100
2004 154 193
2005 152 194
2006 141 194
2008 150 195
2009 143 195
The two exposes by journalists of press freedom interference in May 2010 during the Hulu Selangor and Sibu by-elections are convincing proofs that the Najib administration is imposing strict supervision on the main stream media, interfering with press freedom, depriving the people of their right to information and attempting to influence the results of by-elections. The following are the 8 major incidents showing the violation of press freedom and interference of media independence in the past 12 months:
（1） TV2 stopped the broadcast of Bakun Dam documentaries
（2） Interference and censorship of NTV7 talk show “Editor’s Time”
（3） Home Ministry asked China Press to explain its “misreport” of the resignation of the Inspector-General of Police
（4） The Star was silenced after it criticised the caning of women
（5） Publication of new guidelines for newspapers
（6） Using the cow-head demonstration as an excuse to harass Malaysiakini
（7） Confiscating books
（8） Transfer of NTV7 talk show “Viewpoint” host to a new post
The following are the brief accounts of the first and second incidents of press freedom interference:
(1) TV2 stopped the broadcast of Bakun Dam documentaries
The RTM show, “Galeri Mandarin Nasional”, had planned to broadcast the Bakun Dam series over 2 weeks starting April 24, 2010. Filmed and produced by Chou Z Lam, the series consists of documentaries on the Bakun Dam and its impact on society. After only 2 episodes, the run was stopped by the Director-General of Broadcasting, citing as reasons political sensitivity and adverse effect on the election results of the ruling party in the by-election. The Director-General, the Minister of Information and the former Deputy Information Minister have yet to give a reasonable explanation for the banning of the documentaries.
There are 10 episodes in the Bakun Dam series with 100 over minutes of videos. The banning of the documentaries deprives 10,000 over settlers in the Bakun area of their right to free expression, 170,000 viewers of “Galeri Mandarin Nasional” of their right to information and 55,000 Sibu residents of their right to full information during the by-election.
(2) Interference and censorship of NTV7 talk show “Editor’s Time”
On April 20, 2010, NTV7 talk show “Editor’s Time” producer Joshua Wong resigned suddenly over NTV7’s self-imposed censorship. According to sources, NTV7’s self-censorship was the result of pressure from the Prime Minister’s wife Rosmah Mansor. Rosmah was alleged to have forwarded racially biased SMSes to NTV7 management during the past few shows. “Editor’s Time” had in the past invited politicians and commentators from both the government and the opposition to debate issues on the show. After Rosmah complained, NTV7 decided that the talk show would not discuss the April 25 Hulu Selangor by-election and other political topics, and from then onwards no opposition politicians would be invited to the talk show. In the main stream media, there was a near total gag on the allegation of Rosmah’s interference of the above TV show while in the Chinese print media, only Nanyang Siang Pau and the Oriental Daily carried the Joshua Wong resignation news.
THE RATIONAL FOR THE BLUEPRINT AND ITS STRATEGY
The government’s hand in the supervision, censorship and interference of the main stream media is becoming heavier by the day. If the people do not take the initiative to counter this trend, the situation will deteriorate further. It is imperative for those of us who are concerned with social development and the democratic process to face the situation squarely and, in the deep winter of the twin deprivations of press freedom and freedom of expression, to formulate strategies to break the information blackout and to ensure the free flow of information. We all know that in building a democratic nation based on the rule of law, equally important as press freedom are judicial impartiality, eradication of corruption and abuse of power, guarantee of fair elections among others. However, without press freedom and freedom of expression, there is no foundation on which to build these pillars of a democracy. In other words, the importance of press freedom and freedom of expression in a nation’s democratic process is self-evident.
The emergence of the cyberspace media has opened a window for press freedom, but the use of the internet is confined to the town areas and to the young people. Less than 35% of the population use the internet according to one estimate. Most of the people in the rural areas, especially those in the interior and villages of East Malaysia, still lack freedom of information and the means to change their own destiny and to protect their rights. Even though the internet media have far-reaching and deep influence on the people, they cannot engage the readers in a total and profound way when discussing national topics and issues of the disadvantaged groups. Also the internet is not a good medium to present special reports and documentaries which are the very essence of the democratic process.
Based on the above realisation and concern, we propose that we film, produce and broadcast documentaries on national issues as a means to break the total information blackout and to supplement what the internet lacks, so that the people have a chance to read news and views that are untouched by government censorship, deletion, distortion and reversal, and to make informed decisions and choices concerning the long-term interests and future of the nation, society and the future generations. We hope that our documentaries, dubbed in 4 languages (Mandarin, English, Bahasa Melayu and Iban), can play the above role effectively to break through racial barriers and bring full and important information to every corner of the nation and the world.
We sincerely invite enthusiastic individuals and organisations who are concerned with the future of our nation and that of the children of all races to sponsor the filming, making and broadcast of this documentary series. The making of this series － planning, script writing, gathering of materials including interviews, production and road shows － will be handled by a team of experienced documentary producers who have profound knowledge of what affects the rights and interests of the people. Please refer to the appendix for the budget of this project. Below this is a tentative list of documentaries on national issues, disadvantaged groups issues and publicity issues that promote the democratic process:
(1) National Issues
1. Disastrous consequence of privatisation of the medical service and counter measures that should be put in place in the future
2. Police abuse of power and police violence that threaten the safety and freedom of the people
3. The seriousness of budget deficit and its negative effect on the country’s future
4. The greatest threat to a happy and contented life: security problems and challenges
(2) Issues of The Disadvantaged Groups
1. Plight of the new village landless farmers and the imperative of formulating a new agricultural policy
2. The bumpy road ahead for the illegal Malaysian emigrants to foreign lands and the distribution of the nation’s human resources
3. Problem of orang asli land ownership from the prospective of the 1000-strong orang asli assembly
4. Poverty of FELDA settlers and the mismanagement of FELDA
5. Corruption in LKIM and the predicament of the Malaysian fishermen
6. Urban poverty and the realisation of a welfare state
(3) Promoting the Democratic Process
1． Sarawak voter registration campaign: Changing of national destiny starts from East Malaysia
2． Strengthen the supervision of elections to ensure the integrity of democratic institution
3． The fight for press freedom and the people’s participation
4． Ways and efforts to promote local elections
The budget estimate for this project, which will take at least 2 years to complete, is RM 650,000. Individuals and organisations who wish to sponsor this project can credit their contribution to the following accounts: Public Bank 4-5932065-35
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