KOTA KINABALU, (Jan 22) -- Sabah is probably the best example in the practice of press freedom in the country, said Sabah Legislative Assembly Speaker Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Salleh Tun Said.
He attributed that development to what he termed “liberal approach” by the Malaysian government which valued freedom of the press as a key component of democratic governance, particularly the right to the freedom of expression.
"Every day in the Sabah media we notice or hear opposition parties and non-governmental bodies (NGOs) criticising the ruling party Barisan Nasional (BN) or the government, and sometimes their articles are published on "front page" (of the local newspapers).
"Likewise, state BN leaders too are free to rebut their criticism. This scenario has been going on for decades. In other words, Sabah media appears to enjoy the widest margin of press freedom compared to the media practice in other states in the country," he said in his talk on the principle of democrary - the right to the freedom of expression in conjunction with the visit of members of the Malaysian Press Institute at the Rafflesia Hall, here today.
However, Salleh said although the provisions of Articles 5 to 15 of the Federal Constitution clearly outlined the rights to the freedom of expression, it was wrong for anyone to claim that "he or she had an absolute right to do whatever he or she pleases in the name of such freedom".
For that reason, he said the Malaysian Parliment provided some restrictions on sensitive matters that could threaten national security.
"I believe no freedom is absolute, not even freedom of expression. Freedom of expression should not be taken blindly, ignoring religious sensitivity, ethics and social values.
"In Sabah alone, we have more than 32 ethnic groups with different cultures, races and religions. As such, freedom of expression should not transgress or violate these values.
"Thus, democracy in a country like Malaysia with diverse society must be understood in the context of a conditional freedom, the people enjoy the freedom of expression as long as it does not touch sensitive issues," he added.
The former Chief Minister said freedom must come with responsibility, saying "more so in a multi-racial country like Malaysia which still have a lot of sensitive issues".
In this respect, Salleh hoped the media would play its role very responsibly, especially with regard to dissemination of sensitive information for the good of the people, the state and the country as envisaged by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's 1Malaysia concept which prioritised the national unity.