Over the last few days, many things have been said and many opinions expressed about the unfortunate incident on the circulation of Elisabeth Wong’s nude photos and video. Elisabeth has since then resigned from her position as both Selangor State Exco Member and State Assemblywoman for Bukit Lanjan. She has issued a press statement and letter on her blog, pleaing the public, especially the media which continues to haunt her, to leave her and her family alone and in peace.
Elisabeth’s departure from her office is another addition to the already fragile and tragic state of Malaysian politics. As someone who shows great commitment to human rights and serve the public with their interest at heart, her resignation is a great lost to Malaysians, especially those who fall under her constituency.
I have read many comments posted by people in Malaysia on my Facebook account and today, I came across someone who wrote that he cannot understand how some of us, who purportedly claim to support press freedom and yet condemn the distribution of Elisabeth’s photos. He further expressed that the media has the right to persist with its reporting, although he acknowledged that it is an invasion of her privacy. What came as a shock was that the Malay Mail has apparently published her home address.
Somehow I believe that many people like this particular person, are confused about the real meaning and spirit of press freedom. For them, freedom of press means having the absolute right to publish anything, even at the cost of invading one’s privacy. What most people don’t realise is that when human rights activists fight for the freedom of anything, they don’t forget about all the responsibilities that come with it.
Press freedom is only one example. When we ask for the right to own land, it doesn’t mean one can go and grab another person’s land. When we ask for the right to speech, it doesn't mean one can verbally harass or defame another person. When we ask for the right to have a family, it doesn’t mean one can forced another person to marriage. Very often, a person’s freedom ends when another’s begins and this is when we need to have the moral consciousness and wisdom to judge who has the responsibilities and who has the right to their freedom.
Press freedom is important because it concerns the public’s interest. If there has been an abuse of power or breach of public trust by someone who holds a public office, then it is in the interest of the public to know. Elisabeth Wong’s case is entirely different because her private life has absolutely nothing to do with the public.
Malaysia, a country known for suppressing press freedom and impartial reporting, has once again proved to us that it lacks precisely this kind of wisdom and if not, common sense. While trying to gag the media from reporting independent and fair information concerning the public’s interest, it has on the other side of the spectrum, allowed the tabloid to mercilessly manipulate and exploit another individual’s private life.
No words can describe this sorry state of our country’s government.