People ask me why I keep writing at The Star if they keep doing this. Well maybe I’m just sentimental. They gave me this column to write about 23 years ago when nobody else did and for the most part they’ve published most of what I’ve written. I do know that lots of people read it and I would feel as if I’m abandoning my readers if I just stopped. I’m hoping that those who read it in the paper also read me online and will realise that perhaps my days at The Star are numbered ( or at least until the elections are over.)
My editors at The Star did politely ask me to tone down my column. They even bought me tea to tell me this. They explained the type of nasty pressures they face over many articles, pressure from people who seem to be hyper-paranoid over every little bit of news that might be construed as anti-government, anti-Islam, anti-everythingtheystandfor. I can sympathise with my editors. It can’t be fun being constantly shouted at on the phone or having to attend ‘briefings’ where they are told exactly what they can or cannot write, no argument.
But just last week I was at a forum on media freedom, in Singapore, and I listened to two Burmese journalists talking about media freedom in their country. They talked about how for years they had to deal with the military censors who insisted on seeing their articles BEFORE and AFTER publication. They had to find ways to creatively get their message across either through writing ‘between the lines’, using codewords or writing about foreign news which somehow had some relevance to Burma though obliquely.
Recently however Burma has been moving towards democracy. And with it has come new media freedom and many new newspapers and magazines have proliferated. And where once Aung San Syu Kyii was never mentioned in the papers, she is now on the front pages of almost every paper “because she sells papers”. They now can write about most things although some things -like corruption – are still taboo.
But one thing they said left a mark on me. Through all those years of pressure, the temptation to self-censor was always there. And while others may have succumbed, this one young man decided he would not. “My job,” he said, ” is to write. The censors’ job is to censor. I don’t censor myself because that’s not my job.”
That’s the way I view my column too. I don’t ‘tone down’ largely because I don’t know how to. But also because it’s not my job.
So, for what it’s worth, here is the column that should have appeared tomorrow: