The year 2011 will be remembered for the ways social media — including the use of smart phones, Twitter and Facebook — ignited struggles for democracy across the globe.
Images of rage in Tunisia, after a fruit vendor set himself on fire to protest police actions, of police brutality in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, and of the dead body of dictator Muammar Gadhafi went “viral” within minutes.
Texting created flash mobs during riots in London, Madrid and Athens. The Internet fueled the Occupy Wall Street movement and protests against electoral fraud in Russia.
Back home in Malaysia we had the Bersih, Anti-Lynas and Labour Day movements. While the demands of the Bersih coalition appear to be coherent and apolitical, the convergence of its leadership with the opposition political establishment provides the opposition Pakatan Rakyat with the means to mobilize demonstrators under the benign common cause of “clean and fair elections.”
The alleged heavy-handed conduct of Malaysian security officials has worked to further strengthen international condemnation of Malaysia, as well as alienating the well-intentioned participants of the Bersih 3.0 rally. Unlike Bersih 2.0 in July 2011, the recent demonstrations provoked armed clashes between protestors and police with cases of violence on both sides.
Although police barricaded the area surrounding Dataran Merdeka where the rally was scheduled to take place, violence was not used until demonstrators attempted to cross police barricades into the Square.
The security situation deteriorated as defiant protesters refused to disperse, prompting demonstrators to overturn a police vehicle. Protesters also threw broken bottles, pieces of metal and concrete slabs towards the police, prompting police to fire tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators, causing thousands to disperse into side streets.
In the ensuing melee, many members of the media on active duty covering the event were injured. The media must be allowed to perform their duties without being hampered, threatened or injured.
The media has always respected the police. Journalists were just there to do their job. Everybody should respect each others rights and violence should never be the answer.
As such The Spanker welcomes investigations into the alleged excessive mishandling perpetrated by the police on journalists during the Bersih 3.0 rally. If found guilty, those responsible must be dealt with seriously.
In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day today, The Spanker thanks the press fraternity for playing the important role of bridging the people-government link, without which the correct policies and government transformation plans would be in futility.
Newspaper editors have also welcomed Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein's assurance on the formation of an independent panel to investigate the alleged rough handling of media personnel.
Bernama's former editor-in-chief Datuk Seri Azman Ujang said the formation of the panel was the “most logical thing to do”. He added that the police should respect the profession of media personnel.
The Star executive director and group chief editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai said the media was at the rally to cover the protest and not to take part. “It is ridiculous that some policemen were unable to tell the difference between protesters and media,”. Wong added that all sides should submit evidence and also lodge police reports. He said the media stood united on this issue.
The Malay Mail managing editor Terence Fernandez said he was concerned with the way the police reacted towards the media that day “because it did not seem like random assaults”.
He added that the media needed to discuss with the Home Ministry to see how reporters and photographers could carry out their jobs unhindered under such volatile circumstances.