Organisers of the Minggu Benar campaign are appealing to journalists in the country to take part in a walk to promote truth in reporting, and to persuade those in control to remove the restrictions to allow journalists to report without fear or favour.
One of the organisers of the campaign, S.V. Singam, said the programme will run from June 1 to 7.
“Newspapers who are willing to carry the Benar logo on their publications will be exempt from the media boycott (which is part of the campaign),” he said.
The logo comprises a yellow quill symbolising media that will speak on behalf of the people with honour and integrity, and without fear or favour; while the word BENAR in white represents the people’s desire for truth and fairness in the media, and the red ink dripping from the quill represents the daunting task for the media, and that the people will stand united with journalists, their hearts bleeding as one.
The logo is available at benarffm.wordpress.com
Asked if the campaign, which involves a boycott of mainstream media, would antagonise journalists, Singam said: “We are not against journalists but the media practitioners.”
Another Benar organiser, blogger Haris Ibrahim, said “the way stories are published insults the intelligence of readers”.
“Take, for instance, the way stories on (Datuk Seri) Hishamuddin Hussein were played up,” he said.
“Pak Ali in Kuala Kangsar, who shares a good relationship with Ah Chong and Muthu, was probably wondering what is happening in Kuala Lumpur,” he said, adding this is a disservice.
“Journalists should stand up and say I will not be complicit in the dissemination of dishonest news.”
Haris, a lawyer, said journalists, like lawyers, value different things.
“Some lawyers value money over justice and equality, but for those who believe in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we appeal to you,” he said.
He said civil society groups are ready to march with reporters who say “I have had enough”.
The desire for change must come from the journalists themselves, just like the call for judicial reforms will only work if judges themselves are prepared to make changes, he said.
Haris also offered to put together a team to defend journalists who are prepared to walk against the media editorial boards and management to promote truth in reporting.
Journalists are invited to join the campaign and give their input via benarffm.wordpress.com
Singam and Haris were speaking at the launch of the campaign, held after a press freedom forum organised by the Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ).
The forum, moderated by Writers Alliance for Media Independence chairman Wong Chin Huat, addressed the challenges of media law reform.
Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-deputy chairman Andrew Khoo called on government-run television stations to air reports on opposition parties because 48% of the population who are taxpayers and fund the stations have a right to this airtime.
He said this is the case of the BBC in England where fair coverage is given to both ruling and opposition parties as the station is funded by television licence fees.
Khoo, who is also well- versed in Free Trade Agreement deals, said once the market is open, the pressure for reforms will ironically come from outside the country, although the people within the country could do nothing.
“As long as you get the facts right, journalists should not be afraid to pursue and expose news without practising self censorship,” he said.
H.R. Dipendra, a lawyer who is part of the Southeast Asia Media Defence Network initiated by the Southeast Asia Press Alliance and University of Oxfor, spoke on media defence and protection for mainstream and alternative media to ensure that they do not succumb to government and corporate pressures.
Dipendra, who is also the Kuala Lumpur Young Lawyers Committee chairman, said a good defence network for the media made up of various organisations such as the National Union of Journalists and CIJ could also act as a media watchdog to push for responsible journalism.
Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching, who spoke on the role of parliamentarians to push for the Freedom of Information bill, said that although it is an uphill task, the electorate need to do their part by pushing for reforms through their elected representatives.
Teo said a private member’s bill needs to be introduced to present and pass the bill.
“However, I understand that despite a motion being submitted to introduce the bill, it has not been tabled,” she said, emphasising the need for the media and voters to exert pressure on the government to pass the bill.
Teo also spoke on the need to repeal the Official Secrets Act so that various documents on dubious deals can be declassified.