Democracy depends on the flow of responsible, trustworthy and accurate information.That's why the mass media has self-regulating "code of ethics".It encompasses truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality and public accountability.
Press ethics are self-regulating in developed democracies but, more often than not, compliance by laws in less developed democracies. It differs in form from one organisation to the other. The New York Times has its comprehensive "Ethics On Journalism" here.
In Britain, there is no law regulating the press but most media adhere to guidelines under the "Press Complaints Commission"
In the US, freedom of the press and freedom of free speech are protected under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, forming part of the Bill of Rights.It also includes the right to peaceful assembly and respecting the establishment of religion and the free exercise of religion. The Bill of Rights prohibit the making of any law to abrogate the rights under the 1st Amendment.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press do not give free rein to say or write anything you wish or something untrue or not backed by facts. The public, have the right to be protected against misleading and distorted information.
No civilised society can have mass media without moral obligations, restraints, responsibility and accountability.
The problem in Malaysia is not the mass media, they are self-regulating and regulated by licensing requirement.It is the new media, the alternative media on the Internet that have opened the doors to abuse.A 'Carte Blanche' to the world of free speech.Some, are using it to grind their axes.Some, who fancy themselves holier and smarter than thou used it as conduit for conveying unrestrained character assassination and shit stirring.
Here's a good one pitting DPM Muhyiddin against PM Najib, whom the writer considered a good for nothing laggard and Muhyiddin coveting Najib's position.Good try, doctor. A fantastic clairvoyance.What about telling us who's the next PM of Malaysia.I bet it's not Muhyiddin, he just hasn't got the cut or not just yet.
Many have used it to vend their angers and frustrations against politicians, public figures and individuals.It's completely free,unregulated and unaccountable.
Some news portal and blog owners have thrown caution to the wind and think they can shoot straight from the hip and get away with it.It's a dangerous tool for those lacking in self-discipline.
In US and Europe, a number of bloggers have been taken to court for slander and libel.In Malaysia, the first case of bloggers being sued were Ahirudin Attan of Rocky Bru and Jeff Ooi of Screenshots.Whether the case is still standing or withdrawn I have no idea.
Here, a blogger was sued for US$20 million for just using the word 'scam' in her story. The case is still pending.Libel and slander are complex issues.If she lost the case and can't pay up the next step would be bankruptcy proceeding against her by the plaintiff.
Journalists are protected by the big media company that employ them. Bloggers, unfortunately, are not, they are on their own.If you, in any way, think putting a disclaimer on your blog can protect you, forget it, you still can be sued.
Not only you can be sued for your own article, even worse you can also be sued for comment left on your blog that might be deemed slanderous by the offended party.A young blogger here was sued for comment left on his blog.
In the US, politicians and public figures are less protected and opened to public scrutiny and criticism but one can still be sued for libel.In Canada, writing about politicians and those holding public office not backed by facts can get you into trouble.In Britain, politicians are more hardy and can take enormous amount of criticism in their stride.Again, one can still be sued for libel.
News portal like Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider and hot-blooded Malaysia Today managed to stay in the clean and avert legal actions because Malaysian politicians have too many skeletons in the closet.Some may feel it would be a waste of time and money.
In the event they won the case majority of those sued would have no money to pay up.
They may end up paying good money to chase bad money.
Anyway, don't push your luck, there are some who wish to defend their honour, money or otherwise.Here, Chandra Muzaffar contemplates legal action against a blogger by the name of Antares for his nasty comment in Malaysian Insider.Antares kneeling apology here.
At this moment, only Anwar fits the picture, he has sued many people including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.
The Economist:Najib v Anwar