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Date: 12 Dec 1999
Media should seek 'middle ground' in reporting
Excerpts of keynote address by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, deputy prime minister of Malaysia.
If we in Asia want to speak credibly of Asian values, we too must be prepared to champion those ideals which are universal and which belong to humanity as a whole. It is altogether shameful, if ingenious, to cite Asian values as an excuse for autocratic practices and denial of basic rights and civil liberties. To say that freedom is Western or un-Asian is to offend our own traditions as well as our forefathers who gave their lives in the struggle against tyranny and injustices. It is true that Asians lay great emphasis on order and societal stability. But it is certainly wrong to regard society as a kind of false god upon whose altar the individual must constantly be sacrificed. No Asian tradition can be cited to support the proposition that in Asia the individual must melt into the faceless community.
It has been argued that like oil from water, economic issues must be kept apart from non-economic ones. Neither politics nor morality must disrupt the peaceful clamor of the marketplace. This argumentis again another gross misrepresentation of what Asian traditions have always stood for. The major Asian traditions stand for a holistic vision of life and society encompassing economic, social and political dimensions as opposed to partialistic and fragmentary approaches to development.
One of the greatest challenges facing Asia is to nurture the growth of civil society. In all honesty, we must admit that we are still struggling to eradicate the vestiges of the so-called "Oriental despotism." They will remain unless we vigorously develop and fortify the institutions of civil society, enhance the workings of truly representative participatory governments, promote the rule of laws rather than of men, and foster the cultivation of a free and responsible press.
Perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that the propositions we have outlined earlier cannot be brought to fruition without the pivotal role of the media. Historically, Asian journals and newspapers have been catalysts that lit the sparks which ignited the flames of anti-colonialism, leading to emancipation for millions across the continent. In the post-independence era, they have been preoccupied with the all-encompassing task of nation-building. By and large, they have succeeded. However, in facing the new realities of our time, the media in Asian societies have to redefine their role. In so doing, they will, I am sure, comprehend the complexities inherent in the social and cultural environment in which they operate.
I believe the press of Asia has to find a middle ground between the Western paradigm of unconstrained freedom, including the freedom to incite hatred, and carrying developmental journalism to its extreme, so much so that even mild criticism of the ruling elite and a critical attitude is viewed with fear, suspicion and sometimes contempt.
Asia will continue to modernize, even at an accelerated pace, but it does not necessarily mean that she will have to compromise her values and forsake her ideals. However, she needs to be able to give a better account of herself. This conference might just be the perfect forum. As in Hamlet, we say to our friends: "Sit down awhile, and let us once again assail your ears, that are so fortified against our story."
Wirawan Yang Kita Kenal !