Why Freedom Matters

By Boo Su-Lyn | 17 February 2020

Public health policies cannot be made in secret anymore, without consultations with patients, health care professionals and providers, or ordinary Malaysians.

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Journalism is dying. Newspapers are shutting down, while retrenched reporters sell nasi lemak by the roadside.

In a country where many media organisations are linked to politically connected businessmen, these companies fall when political fortunes change. And journalists find themselves jobless.

The internet has enabled us to get information directly from the source, without having to go through the media. Anyone with an internet connection can publish their story for the world to read.

But the internet has also allowed fake news to spread, making everyone cynical and distrustful of the media and everything they read online.

So, not many people are willing to pay for news.

I must admit, when I co-founded CodeBlue last year with Azrul, I was skeptical. Newsrooms everywhere in Malaysia are struggling. Even decades-old brands have very few paying subscribers, while others depend on political patronage.

What room was there for an independent news site? How could we sustain it?

But I went ahead anyway because I saw a gap. Mainstream media were mostly reporting on politics and scandals of the day, of which there are many. I myself came from that background; I had been reporting on national politics for almost a decade before I started CodeBlue.

But not many media outfits were reporting on health issues. Even though health and mortality affect us all across race and religion, somehow, health wasn’t a political issue.

I want to change that.

Health is very personal. And the personal is political.

We have the right to demand the best quality care from our government. We have the right to demand accountability for bad health policies, or decisions, made in both the public and private sectors. And we have the right to get angry when we get sick, or even die as a result of those policies.

Public health policies cannot be made in secret anymore, without consultations with patients, health care professionals and providers, or ordinary Malaysians. Every voice counts in a democracy.

The will of the people must triumph over the minority of power-hungry bureaucrats who seek to control us.

There is a tendency to allow more State intervention in the name of health, than we ordinarily would in other areas. This is wrong. A population is simply a collection of individuals, and each of us has the right to make informed decisions over our personal health.

In our first year, CodeBlue reported on the potentially disastrous consequences of medicine price regulations on Malaysia’s dual health care system. CodeBlue also revealed proposed amendments to the Poisons Act that sought to incarcerate doctors who do not provide prescriptions upon request. We spurred direct action from ministers and policymakers when we broke the news on a proposed cut of critical allowances for government health care professionals.

One of our most significant stories was about how the tyres of Slim River Hospital ambulances allegedly burst multiple times, before a fatal accident in August 2019, also allegedly caused by a burst tyre. The ambulance driver and patient died. I hope my reports led to new tyres and better ambulance maintenance, not just for that hospital, but for all public hospitals.

Our writer in Johor is keeping tabs on the lawsuit against the government over the 2016 fire at Hospital Sultanah Aminah that killed six patients. The Ministry of Health (MOH) still hasn’t released the report of an independent investigation into the fire. MOH even told us last Tuesday that they would not release any information on the investigation for now.

CodeBlue’s work is not just useful; it is critical.

And this startup of three young people survived one year because each of you here in this room believed in us. Your valuable contribution will help CodeBlue grow in the year to come. We do not have angel investors, corporations, or political parties giving us bags of cash every month.

There is no one behind CodeBlue. It’s just me and my team, and all of you here, supporting us to continue to remain independent, and free to report on Malaysian health issues.

Words have power. Words speak truth to power. Let us harness that power together and use it for the good of the nation.

Thank you.

Speech by CodeBlue co-founder and editor-in-chief Boo Su-Lyn at CodeBlue’s 2020 Fundraiser: Masquerade on February 14, 2020, in Kuala Lumpur.

Boo Su-Lyn is CodeBlue editor-in-chief. She is a libertarian, or classical liberal, who believes in minimal state intervention in the economy and socio-political issues.

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