Salleh (pic, right) attributed that development to what he termed “liberal approach” by the Malaysian government, which valued press freedom as a key component of democratic governance, particularly the right to 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 the 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 “The Principle of Democracy: The Right to the Freedom of Expression” in conjunction with the visit of members of the Malaysian Press Institute today.
However, Salleh said although the provisions of Articles 5 to 15 of the Federal Constitution clearly outlined the right to 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 parliament 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,” he said.
He said democracy in a country like Malaysia with a diverse society must be understood in the context of conditional freedom.
The former chief minister said freedom must come with responsibility, “more so in a multi-racial country like Malaysia which still has a lot of sensitive issues”.
He expressed hope that the media would play its role responsibly, especially with regard to dissemination of sensitive information for the good of the people, the state and the country as envisaged by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s 1Malaysia concept which prioritises national unity. – Bernama