Free Speech Discounted

Free Speech Discounted

Paul Loosley is an English person who lived in Asia 38 years, 12 as a Creative Director, 20 making TV commercials. And in recent years, as a brand consultant. And still, for some strange reason, he can’t shut-up about advertising. Any feedback; mail p.loosley@gmail.com (please speak freely)

Many folks believe that, in the newly ushered-in age of enlightenment, unprecedented amounts of speech should be free. So plentiful that it will line the supermarket shelves and dominate the stalls of every pasar raya. Handed out like kuih at every street corner.

But, folks, free speech is a myth; there is no free lunch, there is no free Willy, there is no free Nelson Mandela. Because everything that we are told is free actually comes at a price. And usually it’s a price no-one really likes to pay.

Look at America; they worship at the altar of free speech, ’enshrined’ in the first amendment of their beloved constitution. Unfortunately, its creators, Madison, Adams and Hamilton et al, didn’t see the internet coming did they? The trolls, the blogs and the anonymous haters (nor did they see their magnificent lives and achievements reduced to a sing-along rap musical).

So now, in America, you can call people the most outrageous names, you can shout profanities, racial and religious slurs at all and sundry, you can call for your opponents to be locked up; all without evidence, proof or facts; in fact, in America, you can tell the most outrageous and egregious lies without fear of consequence or reprisal. All dressed in the mantle of MAGA baseball caps and constitutional free speech. And the price? A country utterly split; in what some have titled, ‘a political civil war’.

Over in the UK they have decided, given their lack of a written constitution, that national referendums are their ‘civilized’ expression of free speech. So they allowed every man, Jack and Jane in the country the privilege of free speech in a plebiscite about the single biggest issue in living memory. EU membership.

People lied freely about the loftiest subjects. About jobs, contributions, donations and immigration. And the whole country voted freely. And the price? Brexit is now bringing the entire zillion years old British political system to its knees. (Starting to count the cost of free speech yet?)

Here we are then; unfettered free speech for Malaysia? Yes, or no? Let’s go.

Well YB Gobind Singh Deo, new Minister of Communications and Multimedia, (who has a job I wouldn’t do for a golden pig) is left with how to address the issue of free speech.

So another committee perhaps?

The National Union of Journalists has suggested that they form a self-regulating body, dedicated to the upholding of free speech. Nice guys journalists, and all well and good intentioned, but naïve. Have they forgotten Malaysia already has copious rules and regs on what can or cannot be said, prepared by ‘The Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia’ (CMCF), a self-governing industry body who, counter intuitively, answer fully to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), an anointed government body who have their own separate and unique ideas on free speech.

RTM have their rules regarding free speech on the TV and Radio, FINAS have theirs too on TV and movies. The Home Ministry usually sits at the top of all this heap and carries a blanket right to veto anything that gets up their (or their masters’) noses.
So, all different. All convinced of their own right to disapprove. But who takes priority? In advertising particularly, we had suffered under this system (or lack of such) for years.

I was excoriated while on the CMCF conduct code committee for daring to say that the many years spent drafting its rules and regulations were a complete and utter waste of time, because if the Home Ministry or FINAS or MCMC felt something was unacceptable it would be dumped, rendering the CMCF opinion moot. Scream, shout, bite the carpet; it was toothless basically. So an NUJ committee might be as useful as tits on a bull. (you must be close to figuring out the price of free speech by now).

Ah! but ‘Is there a solution, you dreadful cynic?’, I hear you ask?

Oh yes. There’s a few. (and watch the name calling).

Number one. Do away with all these regulatory bodies. Create or select a single, government approved, self-regulatory industry body. All internet providers, broadcasters, publications etc. be made responsible for their own content. Or suffer the agonies of hell if anyone transgresses. Supported by an efficient, genuinely trusted and respected complaints council. Sounds nice, but there is a snag; which of the current bodies would be willing to cede their Napoleonic power; a truly prized possession, to allow this to be put in place? (Although I still suspect totally unfettered free speech would be as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit among some parties in Malaysia),

Number two. Say. ‘to hell with self-regulation’ and have one single and autocratic government body, appointed by the cabinet, to be the final arbiter; judge jury and executioner, over free speech as they define it. Mmmm, tasty. But again power may have to be relinquished by some, but the call would come from the top. (Don’t cry ‘fascism’, it makes the trains run on time)

Or Number three. Do nothing. Tidak apa may actually be the best solution in this case. I’m not totally convinced that, apart from some irritations, free speech, or the perceived lack of it, has done any real harm. It might be said that Malaysia’s unorthodox ideas on free speech put a new voice in Putrajaya. Can’t be bad. Eh?

So, Eek, dho, theen; over to you YB.

And, by the way, free Nelson Mandela cocked up South Africa and free Willy probably ended up with a harpoon up the jacksy.

Discount that!

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