World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), which has its origins in a UNESCO conference in Windhoek, Namibia in 1991, is commemorated annually on May 3 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world; to defend the media from attacks on their independence; and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while performing their professional duties.
This year’s WPFD theme “Information as a Public Good” affirms the importance of cherishing information as a public good. It aims to explore what can be done in the production, distribution, and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind. It recognizes the changing communications system that is impacting our health, human and democratic rights, and sustainable development.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Gerakan Media Merdeka (GERAMM) and the National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJM) are jointly hosting a three-day virtual festival to celebrate WPFD. The festival will align with the key topics of this year’s WPFD: the economic viability of news media, the transparency of State institutions in providing information, and media and information literacy capacities to enable people to recognise, value, and demand good journalism and access to information as an integral part of a democratic society.
Malaysia has experienced unprecedented political turmoil since the Perikatan Nasional coalition took power in March 2020. Malaysia is also currently under a State of Emergency, which was proclaimed on 11 January 2021. Journalists and media organisations have found themselves under heightened scrutiny, from being investigated by the police to be charged with criminal offences for their reporting.
Earlier this year, Malaysiakini was fined RM500,000 by the Federal Court for contempt of court, over readers’ comments on its article about Malaysian courts reopening after the COVID-19 lockdown.
In July last year, Al Jazeera and its journalists were investigated by Malaysian police over a segment of its 101 East programme, which was critical of the authorities’ treatment of migrants during the pandemic.
The pandemic has also exacerbated the already limited access to state information – the number of authorised media outlets and journalists allowed to participate in Government press conferences have since been severely restricted. Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s WPFD theme of “Information as a Public Good” is even more significant and meaningful to Malaysia, its media, and its peoples.