Malaysia: Media council critical for press freedom

Malaysia's media reform trajectory has been stymied by political change and increased violations against media workers, according to an international media discussion on September 9. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) acknowledges the efforts of Malaysia’s media in continuing to push for critical reforms and welcomes the revival of media council discussions, with the government, set to take place this week.

Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak (bottom C) speaks to members of the media after he was found guilty in his corruption trial in Kuala Lumpur on July 28, 2020. Credit: Fazri Ismail / AFP

IFJ hosted the webinar to launch the report, Impacts of Covid-19 on Media Workers in Malaysia and increase understanding of the political and legal issues impacting media freedom in Malaysia under Covid-19 as well as issues of media sustainability and ownership diversity. The webinar was supported by IFJ’s Malaysia affiliate, the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM) and the European Union.

Moderated by digital journalist Norman Goh, the panel included NUJM committee member Qishin Tariq, Democratic Action Party (DAP) politician and former journalist Wong Shu Qi; spokesperson and coordinator for Gerakan Media Merdeka (GERAMM), Radzi Razak; journalist Tashny Sukumaran; and co-founder and CEO of Malaysiakini, Premesh Chandran.

Among the panel, Razak shared his concerns against the “witch-hunt practice” of attacking journalists on social media, while Sukumaran discussed journalist safety online, particularly tweets directed to journalists from high ranking officials and politicians which triggered cyber-attacks.

“Not only using the state apparatus, such as police and laws, irresponsible politicians have also used mobilised media to attacks journalists. Instead of going to Twitter, why not allow us to publish balanced and accurate information?” she said.

Speakers discussed economic impacts of Covid-19 that compounded the problem of severely declining media advertising revenue and shared opinions on the need for less political influence in media and different business models outside the traditional advertising model.

Malaysiakini’s Chandran talked on the country’s developments in establishing a media council, with the proposed draft bill on the creation of the Malaysian Media Council submitted last month. On September 11, the pro-tem committee headed by Premesh is set to meet with Communications and Multimedia Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, to discuss the draft bill. This meeting has now been
postponed.

“We urge the government to support a media self-regulation. With credible and independent media, we can tackle the spread of misinformation,” Chandran said, also cautioning against overt government control over media, stating that critical reporting helped and supported true democracy.  

Wong Shu Qi highlighted the critical need for freedom of information in Malaysia. “Only by having the freedom of information, journalists and newsrooms can produce a good quality of journalism. It will then increase public support for journalism.”

Giving a perspective on the need for strong unions in the media space, Tariq said there was an urgency for union reform. “The union (NUJM) used to only accept print journalists but now it expands to online journalists. It aims to include students as well. Stronger unions are important to improve media workers' rights.”

IFJ and NUJM launched a media advocacy campaign #MYMediaMatters earlier this year as part of a five-year media development project, funded by the European Union called Strengthening Malaysia’s Media for Change. The IFJ is working with a range of stakeholders in Malaysia to strengthen and empower Malaysia’s media.

The IFJ said:Despite the heightened challenges under the more hard-line coalition led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, journalists and civil society organisations continue to advocate for media reform. The IFJ welcomes the revival of media council discussions as a crucial step toward a stronger and more resilient media in Malaysia and calls on Malaysia’s government to heed the media and union calls for necessary reforms.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram