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Oleh/By		:	DATO' SERI DR. MAHATHIR BIN MOHAMAD 
Tempat/Venue 	: 	SHANGRI-LA HOTEL, KUALA LUMPUR 
Tarikh/Date 	: 	01/08/91 
Tajuk/Title  	: 	THE OPENING OF THE SECOND 
			CONFERENCE OF ASEAN MINISTERS
			RESPONSIBLE FOR INFORMATION 




 Your Excellencies,
     ASEAN Ministers responsible for Information;
Distinguished Delegates;
Honoured Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
    It is indeed a pleasure and privilege for me to address
this  distinguished gathering of the ASEAN Ministers respon-
sible for Information.  I am delighted to  be  present  here
this  morning, especially to meet with leaders of the commu-
nication and information sector of ASEAN, and to  officially
open  the  Second  Conference of ASEAN Ministers responsible
for Information.
2.   Events appear to be moving very fast these days in  all
parts of the world -- in Eastern Europe, in the Americas, in
Africa and in Asia and, of course, in our own neighbourhood.
These events will invariably affect the course of history --
for better or for worse.  With the advances in all fields of
communication  the world has now become a global village and
consequently thoughts or words or deeds reach the  ears  and
even  the eyes of everyone as frequently as they happen.  We
were able to sit in our houses and watch modern warfare  be-
ing  conducted  on  a real time basis.  And countries can no
longer shield their people  from  the  happenings  in  other
parts  of the world.  One of the most astounding results was
the exposure of the failure of the communist ideology  which
led to it being abandoned in Russia and Eastern Europe.
3.   There  can  be  no  doubt that the advances in communi-
cation technology have been largely beneficial to the  human
race.    Their  scope of awareness of the world they live in
has been vastly enlarged.   Far  away  places  with  strange
sounding  names  seem  no  longer far or strange.  Knowledge
which had taken a whole lifetime to acquire in the past  can
now be learnt in an hour.  There is a great deal more trans-
parency  in  the affairs of man and of nations.  Distance no
longer separate, for the pressing  of  a  few  buttons  will
bring people within talking distance of each other.
4.   Along  with all these advances there is an explosion in
the media industry, particularly the electronic media.   The
volume  of  information that is disseminated cannot be coped
by any individual or society or nation.  There are  far  too
much  news  that  are fit to print or to broadcast.  Accord-
ingly news must be  chopped  into  digestible  bits,  inter-
preted, vetted, censored, analysed, and underlined by people
in  the  information  business, whether Governmental or non-
Governmental.
5.   What these people are doing  are  no  doubt  essential.
Without proper presentation, news would be confusing and in-
digestible.    Some  people  must therefore condense and vet
what the people should read and what they should not.    And
these  people,  whether  they be from the Government or from
the non-Government organisations, must acquire  a  consider-
able degree of power.  And power, they say, corrupts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
6.   Freedom  of  the  press is now accepted as an essential
part of democracy.  Quite rightly the dissemination of  news
by  the  press  should not be suppressed.   Governments have
been able to subjugate their people by denying news.  To al-
low Governments to control  the  press  is  synonymous  with
totalitarian rule.  Any Government which interferes with the
dissemination  of news must therefore be regarded as undemo-
cratic, a heretic in a world that  now  unanimously  accepts
democracy as an article of faith.
7.   Knowing how powerful is the influence of information on
the  mind  and action of people, and knowing also that it is
impossible to distribute all the news  as  they  happen  and
equally impossible for people to absorb all the news that is
distributed,  it  is  inevitable that the people involved in
the information industry should select  some  happenings  to
report and to exclude the others.
8.   In  addition, it has now been accepted that the presen-
tation of the news is also the right of those  in  the  non-
Governmental  information  industry.    Now we know that the
narration of history by different people and different coun-
tries differ greatly.   In history it is  always  the  other
country  which is wrong.  One's own country is always right.
And so whole generations grow up to hate and despise certain
countries because of what their history books narrate.   The
same  can  happen  in  daily reporting by the press.  A dis-
torted view of events can always be spread because the  peo-
ple in the press, like the national historians, have certain
views.
9.   But,  of  late, it has even been accepted that lies can
be fabricated in the name of freedom of the press.  With the
increasingly powerful weapons at the disposal of the  press,
it  is  entirely  possible  for the press not only to create
totally erroneous views and opinions, but actually to under-
mine the stability and even the economy of countries.    And
events  have  shown  that the guardians and practitioners of
press freedom are not averse to  using  this  unlimited  li-
cense.  New and more telling ways are continuously being in-
vented so that lies can be accepted as the truth.
10.  During the last World War, Dr. Goebbels of Nazi Germany
perfected  the  art  of the half-truth as a means to consol-
idate the support of the German people, first for  the  Nazi
Party and then for the territorial ambition of Germany.  To-
day,  we  wonder  how the highly cultured and humane Germans
could  perpetrate  the  horrors  of  Belsen  and  Auschwitz,
gassing  and killing Jews and then glorying in their brutal-
ity.  The answer lies in the effectiveness of Dr.   Goebbels
propaganda  machine.    Even  the most gentle Germans can be
made into a beast if fed the kind  of  selected  information
that was cooked up by Dr. Goebbels propaganda machine.
11.  We  do  not have a Dr. Goebbels anywhere now.  But when
the world community accepts that press freedom  confers  the
right  to  fabricate and tell lies, then we are condoning at
least a part of the practices of Dr. Goebbels.   The  result
may  not  be the brutes who terrorised Nazi Germany but cer-
tainly there would be people sufficiently prejudiced as  not
to be able to see anything right about others.
12.  Another effect of a shrinking world and instant news is
the  evolution  of a world press.  Language is a very impor-
tant factor in the world press.  Obviously a newspaper  cir-
culated  worldwide,  say  in  the Mongolian language, if the
Mongolian people have the kind of money to do this,  is  not
going  to  have  much impact on public opinion in the world.
To be effective, the language must be one that is understood
by the most number of people in the world.  And the language
is English, the national tongue of some of the most populous
and richest countries in the world.   It is  not  surprising
therefore  that the English speaking nations largely control
the world press.  The non-English speaking nations which are
also poor cannot have access to  the  world  press  to  give
their  views or versions of whatever news are reported about
them.
13.  As a consequence, the poor non-English speaking nations
feel naked and defenceless.  If freedom of the press  is  to
be  meaningful,  then everyone should be able to present his
side of the story.  What we are seeing is a one-sided  exer-
cise of that freedom.  Those who have no access to the world
press have no freedom.
14.  We  talk  so much about human-rights, justice and fair-
play, etc.  The question that must be asked is whether there
is justice and fair-play when only certain people can influ-
ence the minds of the world  community,  and  whether  human
rights  is  not  denied  when  whole nations are deprived of
their right of expression and their  freedom  to  air  their
views.    Does  press  freedom  refer only to the freedom of
those who control the press in a  country  and  not  to  the
freedom of the people to air their views in the press?  Does
freedom of the press exist when only certain nations can air
their versions of the truth and others may not?
15.  Some  years  ago there was an attempt by poor countries
to reform the international  information  order.    Normally
there  is  sympathy  for the poor, but there was no sympathy
shown to the poor nations' attempt to  gain  access  to  the
international  media and to fair reporting.  One of the big-
gest United Nations Agencies was threatened with  a  cut-off
in  its  finances if it entertains the pleas of the poor na-
tions.  And so with unseemly haste the new information order
was jettisoned.  The right to fabricate, to tell lies and to
do selective and slanted reporting about  poor  nations  re-
mains.
Ladies and gentlemen,
16.  The  ASEAN  countries are a group of developing nations
anxious to make as rapid a progress as  possible  towards  a
developed stage.  Although by comparison the ASEAN countries
have  done quite well, as developing countries they have all
the weaknesses associated with such a status.    To  develop
they will need as little hindrance as possible.
17.  One  of  the  most  important preconditions for them is
political stability.  This precondition can only be achieved
if the people are well-informed, responsible, and  aware  of
the results of their own action.
18.  Democracy  confers  on the people rights and freedom of
action.  But rights and freedom are not free-standing  enti-
ties.    They must be accompanied by a sense of responsibil-
ity.
19.  For a democracy to succeed the people must therefore be
appreciative not only of their rights but also their respon-
sibilities.  This can only come about through a  process  of
formal  and informal education regarding democracy, which we
all know is an alien concept.
20.  It is in the area of informal education  that  informa-
tion  ministries,  agencies  and  departments of Governments
have to play a big role.  It is the duty  of  Government  to
give  some  guidance  without  converting a democracy into a
guided democracy.  The line between merely guiding and being
a guided democracy is difficult to draw.   Too little  guid-
ance may result in irresponsibility, too much may negate de-
mocracy.
21.  Yet  the  people must know that it is in their interest
to be responsible in the  exercise  of  democratic  freedom.
They  must  know  that there is no monopoly by anyone in the
definition and exercise of democracy.  They must  know  that
democracy  is  meant  to serve the people.   The exercise of
democratic rights to the point where the people continuously
suffer instability, insecurity and low or negative  economic
growth  would  seem  to negate the objectives of being demo-
cratic.  Yet, in most instances, it is not  democracy  which
is at fault but the failure to understand it or worse still,
the manipulation of democracy by self-serving people.
22.  People  who  understand the way democracy works and its
limitations will be able to derive the maximum benefit  from
the  system.   The mindless acceptance of someone else's in-
terpretation of democracy and an unquestioning submission to
certain practices, as for example the right to fabricate and
tell lies, will undermine not only the fledgling democracies
but the democratic system as well.  This, the  countries  of
ASEAN can ill-afford.
23.  Governments  have  a duty not only to protect democracy
and freedom, but also to bring  about  social  and  economic
well-being  for  the citizens.  While Governments should not
suppress the truth; while there should be press freedom  and
a  free flow of information, Governments would be failing in
their duty if they allow abuse of press freedom to  the  ex-
tent  that lies can be spread and the stability and economic
well-being of the people undermined.
Ladies and gentlemen,
24.  The ASEAN Ministers responsible for Information face  a
daunting  task.    They  have to be responsible for both the
free flow of information as well as ensure the stability  of
their  countries.  There will be many occasions when the two
seem incompatible, when their responsibility for the  devel-
opment of their countries seem to run counter to their faith
in  the freedom of democracy.  It is not easy for example to
ban a newspaper or expel a journalist.   You don't  do  such
things  without getting a bashing from the Fourth Estate and
those who consider themselves holier than us.
25.  Tolerance must therefore be stretched to  the  maximum.
But  no tolerance is necessary when there is evidence of de-
liberate lies which undermine the nation.
26.  Your meeting will enable you  to  exchange  experiences
and  discuss  how best the media can be used for the good of
your respective countries.   It  is  hoped  that  the  ASEAN
Ministers  responsible for Information will be able to coop-
erate well.  It is important to remember that instability of
one ASEAN country will affect the stability  of  the  others
and the region.
27.  I  hope  you will have a good meeting.  I now have much
pleasure to declare open  the  Second  Conference  of  ASEAN
Ministers responsible for Information.

 
 



 
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