The issues of journalism and a free press come to mind these days. With a significant number of journalists attacked in, among other countries, Russia, just in the past few months, we clearly see the dependence of the media system on the political environment in a country. Journalism training is the major form of media development - how to use new technologies, how to write a good feature, how to sniff out a corruption scandal - but is anyone thinking about what happens to reporters in countries where the rule of law is weak? This year alone, 16 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports. Last year: 71. Since 1992, more than 800 journalists have been murdered as a direct consequence of their reporting. Iraq, the Philippines, Algeria, and Russia are the four deadliest countries for journalists.
It is important not to let a scandal go to waste. If you follow world politics, then you must know about the recent events in Great Britain. According to the Financial Times, 'For the past two weeks, Britain has been in a state of stupefied anger at the ingenious ways in which elected politicians have used their expenses system to milk the taxpayer'. As a result, says the same report, 'public fury over scandalous expenses claims has pushed lawmakers, in fear of losing their jobs and their reputations, towards constitutional reform'. (Financial Times, May 23/May 24 2009.)
Now, I am a student of the constitutional thought of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the British utilitarian philosopher and jurist. Thus, as I have followed the scandal Bentham's words have been ringing in my ears. For, one of the great battles of Bentham's long life was the reform of parliament. But Bentham was a universalist. He was confident that his ideas for constructing a form of government that would provide 'securities against misrule' were universally applicable. Bentham believed that government should be as open and as transparent as possible. This is his Panopticon principle, all round transparency with very few exceptions. Note that a request under the Freedom of Information Act got the scandal under discussion going.
You are familiar, I believe, with the authoritarian objection to a free, plural and independent media system. Authoritarian leaders always say: at this stage in the development of our country we cannot afford a free press. Too dangerous, you understand, too disruptive. Let's secure national unity first, let's get rid of poverty, let's be as rich as the West, then we can talk about a free press. Or they deploy the cultural norms argument. This is Asia, they might say, and Asian values do not support imported notions like a free press, free speech and such nonsense. Others will say: this is Africa; we have to do what makes sense in Africa. A free press causes nothing but trouble. We can't afford that now.
Well, you can imagine my reaction when I read the following story in the New York Times of Thursday November 6: 'Malay Blogger Fights a System He Perfected'.