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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Don’t confuse news with opinions 


Salleh Said Keruak 

We always discuss freedom of speech, press freedom, freedom to disagree, freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, and so on. I would be the first to agree that it would be impossible for any government to stifle these freedoms. Some would even call these freedoms a God-given right. 

We must, however, know where to draw the line with these freedoms and not cross that line by denying others their freedoms as well. For example, if you practice absolute freedom in attacking someone, you may be denying that other person his or her right to peace of mind, harmony, privacy, etc. 

Take the gun control debate in the US as an example. Americans argue that the right to bear arms is written in the US Constitution and, therefore, cannot be taken away from them. To do so would be unconstitutional. However, while you may have the right to bear arms, this does not mean you also have the right to shoot someone without just cause, such as to defend yourself against physical attack. 

Freedom of the press must be upheld for society to mature. But then we must also use this freedom in a mature manner. And then we need to understand the difference between opinions and news. 

Someone may write an opinion piece regarding, say, why the Chinese are more successful than others in business. The writer researches into 200 years of Chinese presence in Malaysia since the 1800s and comes to his or her conclusion. That is merely the writer’s opinion and different historians may have different conclusions regarding the same matter. 

Opinions must be allowed and respected in the spirit of academic freedom, whether we agree with the research or not. Some even conclude that humankind did not come from Adam and Eve but evolved from apes. We can disagree with that opinion but we have to respect the right of that person to hold such opinions and to publish this opinion. 

When it comes to news, however, we need to be more responsible and factual. It must be about what happened and not about what you think may have happened. If not then it becomes false news. Take the news that has gone viral regarding Brunei imposing an absolute ban on Christmas. That news is now proven wrong but the damage has been done because this ‘news’ has gone viral. 

And this is what happens when we are not responsible and we report news without first doing a proper background check. While we hide behind media freedom and the right to report the news, we end up denying people the right to the truth and we subject Brunei to an injustice. This is not what media freedom is about. 

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