Lately, a series of arrests has given rise to doubts on PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s media freedom wishes.
Some media practitioners are privately saying media freedom under the Pakatan Harapan is a bluff. Others are saying journalists are still not able to express freely.
There is too much pressure for self-censorship and there is still the fear the authorities will strike back if too much is said.
However, the Pakatan Harapan government is making amends and is moving forward to repeal restrictive media laws.
One of the solutions proposed is the creation of an independent watchdog that will help regulate the local media.
“The PPPA gives the government power to close down media organisations or suspend operations. The government has financial stakes in most mainstream media outlets and a number of other laws that allow it to muzzle the media, including the Communications Act and the sedition and official secrets acts,” wrote the UK paper.
Kadir Jasin, the PM’s media adviser, says the media is looking to get the government to reduce the necessity to bring dissatisfaction with the media to the courts.
The watchdog’s aim is to raise ethical and journalistic standards across Malaysia. It will also allow the public to complain on the quality of reporting.
One question though is why the need for such a watchdog? Does it not mean changing the laws to impose a new system of governance in the industry?
The presence of ‘regulators’ does not give the media total freedom.
On the other hand, there is no guarantee the watchdog will be ‘independent’ to begin with.
Instead of an ‘independent watchdog’, vote laws that will protect the media. Laws that may help liberalise the media and keep politicians away from editorial boards.
The government should also think of ways to create better competition in the media industry. But the recent spate of shares exchanging hands is a bad sign for the media.
<<Regulating the media should also be about the breaking of monopolies.>>
The use of sedition laws, the threats to use the controversial SOSMA and the recent media buying spree by a Mahathir crony does not augur well for media freedom.
If there is a watchdog, its first duty must be the cleaning-up of the media ownership space.
Syed Mokhtar Al-Bhukari’s grip on the media has to be broken. There should be no monopoly. And the grip political parties hold on mainstream media too must vanish.
Then only you will have a start to a really independent media industry in the country.
<<But recent events do not give credence to the government’s political will to free the media.>>
If there must have a watchdog, its first duty will have to be the cleaning-up of the media ownership space.