The Centre for Independent Journalism is a non-profit organisation promoting media independence and freedom of expression in Malaysia.
The Malaysian Media Council pro-tem committee chairperson Premesh Chandran today stressed that the support from the Communications and Multimedia Ministry is needed in order for the council to become a reality.
In January this year, the then minister Gobind Singh Deo had announced the appointment of a committee, fulfilling a promise as stated in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto to set up a media council.
The committee had worked on a draft bill since then.
The effort was however brought into uncertainty as the Harapan government collapsed and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional.
“It’s really time for the media to self regulate and we need to get rid of draconian laws that actually control the media.
“We haven’t heard from the new government which came to power in March. We have made approaches to the ministry. One needs to know what their position is for the media council.
“We would need the support of the ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chamber, and get the vote to pass the bill in the Parliament,” said Premesh, who is also Malaysiakini CEO.
He was speaking as one of the guests in a coffee talk webcast organised by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Malaysia (FCCM) in conjunction with the World Press Freedom Day 2020.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was initially scheduled to attend the talk but had to cancel his participation due to other commitments.
Premesh urged the government to swiftly address questions posed by the media rather than escaping them.
“You cannot run away. You saw the previous government under Najib (Abdul Razak) shying away from questions about 1MDB.
“But I call the government to take a different approach. Address (the questions and issues) as soon as possible. It’s okay to have negative reports sometimes but we can learn from it and improve,” he said.
Take the ranking with a pinch of salt
Commenting on the country being ranked 101st in the latest 2020 World Press Freedom Index, which was a positive shift by 22 places, Centre for Independent Journalism executive director Wathshlah Naidu said that it has to be taken with a pinch of salt.
“It’s really important for us to gain the spot that we are in this year, something to be proud of.
“But we have to take it with a pinch of salt because the rank is attributed to the change in the government (from BN to Harapan).
“What we have seen in the last two years was lifting of the ban against certain media outlets. We had a more relaxed environment, less self-censorship, and more balanced reporting,” she said.
Addressing the cyber threats faced by the journalists, Naidu said it’s the responsibility of the government to create a safe working environment.
“The threats have evolved now. Technology has created different avenues and platforms for threats to perpetuate.
“The government has to move away from criminal prosecution. They need to focus on educating the public,” she said.
Another guest, media advocacy group Geramm activist, Radzi Razak, highlighted the hardship the journalists on the ground had to face.
“There are (media) companies which are having problems with paying salary on time. This puts stress on the reporters, as some have to borrow money to go out for assignments.
“Those who are most affected are junior reporters and photographers,” he said.
Radzi added that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenging situation of the media industry.