Paulo A. Azevedo
Founder and Publisher
The President of the world’s largest power – the United States of America – a person that seems clearly unbalanced and the product of a society that has to do a very strong and long cultural and educational introspection, has launched the motto: ‘Fake news’.
In the case of Donald Trump, fake news is anything that does not please or serve his interests. The same happens in other latitudes, where power tries to perpetuate itself, safe from prying eyes to its less legitimate acts.
Is there fake news on the Internet? Naturally, yes. As there has always been on the radio, television and in the newspapers. There are stories that are published that are not investigated as they should be. Others appear because they interest certain groups, who use journalists or opinion makers with few scruples. And then there is a myriad of propaganda material, which does not originate in the media but through other forms of communication.
Has the Internet increased the global diffusion of information, with few filters? No doubt. But as in the newspapers of the last century, whose editorial lines were more sensationalist and less interested in storytelling and more in sales, the solution is not to increase the number of restrictive measures of a fundamental right.
What Trump and others like him want – and what Malaysia has just done with a law threatening up to six years in prison for the publication of ‘fake news’ – is information control. It is the formatting of mentalities. It is the silencing of societies and the obstruction of those who might be a threat or an obstacle to them.
The solution to combating tabloid newspapers, unreal stories and institutional lies, and others, will always be through education and culture. Yesterday, as today, mentalities must have to be developed in order to discern good from evil rather than the absolute cult of information. Or the handling of information on behalf of others, allegedly to protect them. Or the condemnation of someone who may well be just a ‘stumbling block’ on the path to certain power. No wonder Malaysia, number 144 on the World Press Freedom’s 180-country list, has progressed that new restrictive bill.
Malaysia is a country headed by a Prime Minister who attempts political survival on the eve of elections after numerous scandals and strong allegations of corruption and misappropriation of funds.
Macau also felt – not long ago – the temptation to move forward with legislation that could somehow control the flow of information on the Internet and in social media. I was one of those who advised the government not to get involved in this, to let other more developed countries with different types of experience and ‘curricula’ pioneer these new paths of global communication.
The government had the good sense to listen and not to get involved in this hornet’s nest.
It should invest in education and culture and this will always be the best way to support a society to develop better and protect itself.
Just as we are learning daily from the ins and outs of world politics, there is nothing more dangerous than ignorance.
Especially when it comes from those who have the power to dictate laws and destabilise nations.
Numerous initiatives have been taken recently that lead us to think about the need to transform Macau – a peaceful city by nature and much more ‘obedient’ than, say, Hong Kong – into a police state.
Let’s put aside the bans on entry to the city – in our view ridiculous – of journalists and lawmakers from the neighbouring SAR. And I do not even feel much affected by the fact that police officers’ uniforms are to be equipped with cameras. With the caveat, of course, that I just hope the cops don’t turn them off or mute the microphones if they’re acting in an erratic way, as recently happened in the murder of a person of colour by the United States finest boys in blue.
The cameras on the uniforms affect me as much as the many hundreds the government has decided to populate the city with. It isn’t the cameras per se – which, although adding a psychological weight to the tranquillity of the people is something that we can habituate to – that can constitute a danger to freedom of movement and expression. But the way data is processed, distributed, and whether or not it will be protected and in what form. And the dose of society’s confidence in the transparency of the responsible authorities. Which I would venture to say should not be too much, although, again, Macau has a population which complies with almost everything without making a great kerfuffle.
But the Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, wants more. A lot more. And is proposing revising the National Security Law inscribed in Article 23 of the Basic Law of the Macau SAR in order to reinforce the “demonstration of the ‘One country’ principle.” And if we join these separate little news items together we begin to detect a pattern. Worrisome. Disturbing, even.
Now, the idea of barring foreign judges from national security cases. Foreign judges, in Macau mean Portuguese judges. The Legislative Assembly President, Ho Iat Seng, defended these proposals in the recently proposed Judicial Organisational Law by citing the “confidentiality” of information involved in national security cases.
The second system that China has vowed to remain unchanged until 2049 is dying, and efforts – some more surreptitious than others – to limit freedoms while the transparency of government acts and decisions of sovereign bodies and decision centres become more opaque, gain ground.
They are neither good signs nor good initiatives, mainly because they are as muscular as they are unnecessary. Which only proves that someone is trying hard to show work and be politically correct. Unfortunately, not to the general population of Macau.
And certainly for reasons I could swear to be not entirely altruistic.