Proposed media consultative council another layer of control on shackled press

Media Statement (26 July 201)

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) strongly opposes the government’s proposed media consultative council. It is clear from the objectives of this proposed council that it will be yet another layer of control on the media, in addition to the myriad laws that already curb media freedom and have long stunted the proper growth of an independent and ethical Malaysian media.

Although media freedom is one of the stated objectives, this is mere lip service at work since it is being promoted only within the context of existing legislation and national interest – not the public interest. Existing repressive legislation would include the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act, Internal Security Act and Communications and Multimedia Act.

The government hopes this council will be a forum to ensure “harmonious cooperation” between itself and the media. But it is impossible to have any meaningful forum when laws such as the PPPA are still availed to the government to threaten the press into submission. As long as these laws remain in place, any forum or council with the government’s involvement will be an unequal relationship where the government calls all the shots. Already, the government already regularly makes known its views to the mainstream media through phone calls, show-cause letters and the summoning of editors to the Home Ministry for “chats”.

That the Information, Communications and Culture Minister and the Home Minister are being proposed as co-chairs of the council alongside their secretary-generals as deputy co-chairs shows the government’s intention to retain its position of power.

Media councils have been mooted since the 1970s and a few models proposed since then place a significant amount of power in the ruling government. Journalists, editors and media freedom interest groups such as ours have consistently sought the review of existing laws as a precursor to any council; however, these calls have gone unheeded.

If the ruling government is serious about fostering media freedom, it should repeal all repressive laws and let the media self-regulate, with input from civil society and in the interest of the public.

Further, to ensure that media gets “fair, accurate, and balanced” information, as mentioned in the terms of reference, the government should establish an environment where transparency and good governance is part and parcel of its conduct. Information of public interest held by the government should be readily available to the public and to the media, and not kept in secret.

The proposed media consultative council will not promote an independent, ethical and transparent media but will instead be a step backward. If the current terms of reference remain, it might as well be renamed “Media Propaganda Council”.

We therefore call upon all parties to reject this government-led initiative. The public deserves a media that is independent and puts the public interest first rather than answer to the political masters of the day.

For more information, please contact: Masjaliza Hamzah, CIJ Executive Officer, 03-4023 0772

The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a non-profit organisation that aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all peoples will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek and impart information.