FEBRUARY 15 — Each year the number of Malaysians visiting New Zealand increases. This year, Malaysia aims to welcome 60,000 New Zealanders for Visit Malaysia 2020. In 2018, a total of 50,698 New Zealanders visited Malaysia and in that year, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the visiting New Zealanders about anti-corruption. Historically our strong bilateral relationship was built on shared membership in the Commonwealth. New Zealand is considered among the cleanest countries in terms of being free of corruption.
At the macro level, New Zealand’s success in suppressing corruption is the product of strict adherence to three pillars. The first comprises of strict laws against bribery coupled with an independent judiciary system that enforces these laws without fear or favour. The second is the presence of government machinery in civil administration as well as law enforcement that conduct themselves with the highest level of integrity. The third pillar is the assurance of an independent press.
An independent press plays a key role in ensuring transparency and keeping public officials honest. The press serves the role as the eyes and ears of the people in ensuring that officials are accountable. With few exceptions, a suppressed press goes hand-in-hand with the spread of corruption. In fact, the more the press serves as a propaganda machine, the more likely that abuse and injustices will either be rationalized or hidden from the public.
When public officials believe that they can abuse their positions with impunity and not be held accountable, they are more likely to use their positions to serve their personal interest. Freille, Haque and Kneller (2007) found empirical support for the contention that lower press freedom is correlated with corruption. This relationship is particularly strong when the press is subjected to political and economic influences from the elite.
Weaver defines media freedom as including i) the relative absence of government restrictions on the media ii) the absence of governmental and other restrains on the media and iii) the presence of conditions that enables the dissemination of the plurality of ideas to the audience. An independent and vigilant press serves as a control mechanism that can uncover abuses.
New Zealand ranks seventh in the World Press Freedom Index. This undeniably contributes to their ability to keep corruption low. As Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman argued, the press can also serve as a system-supportive propaganda machine. They explained that profit motive, the need for advertising revenue, and sources used by the media to get their news can cause the press to self-censor their reporting or become bias to be more aligned with powerful stakeholders.
Besides anti-corruption legislations, better enforcement and education, the role of the press must not be underestimated. In fact, the press is one of the channels for educating the public about corruption. It is therefore necessary for countries seeking to eradicate corruption to also reform their press polices to ensure more press freedom. This will help keep the powerful accountable.
An open press will help close the door to corruption. New Zealand has provided us with models on how to ensure press freedom. A free press will help a country become free from corruption. We hope, that during Visit Malaysia 2020, Malaysia will not only be a clean country for tourists but will also be clean from corruption as envisioned by our revered prime minister and the cabinet.
* Datuk Hasanuddin Mohd Yunus is Public Accounts Committee member, Vice-Chairman for South-east Asian Parliamentarians Against Corruption (SEAPAC) & Member of Board of Directors for GOPAC
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.