KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — To maintain media freedom, which is essential for democracy, journalists must be able to safely carry out their work, free from obstruction. Yet media freedom and the safety of journalists are under threat around the world.
Ahead of the 2023 National Journalists’ Day (HAWANA) to be held in Ipoh, Perak from May 27 to May 29, several analysts and media practitioners underscored the need for stronger efforts to tackle the specific challenges to the safety of journalists, especially in high-risk environments.
Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) School of Media and Information Warfare Studies’ security and political analyst Noor Nirwandy Mat Noordin opined that both the government and media industry stakeholders should work towards ensuring a safe and enabling media environment, such as through changes to human security elements.
“Journalists are at risk of being exposed to obstacles, either physically or mentally, including the challenges faced by environment journalists in reporting on climate change.
“The government and stakeholders should continue to provide safe work environments and safe work practices by ensuring media personnel on the ground embrace the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and safe work practices guidelines to prevent unwanted harm and risks from occurring.
“Besides that, we must ensure that journalists will continue to be protected from any cyber threats or the tendency of certain quarters to give a negative image on the media,” he told Bernama.
Malaysian Media Index
According to Noor Nirwandy, the government should devise a Malaysian Media Index as an effective mechanism for the local media to gauge their effectiveness in disseminating the right information to the public, besides serving as a performance indicator on the level of freedom and welfare available to them.
Every initiative undertaken by the government to promote media freedom should be seen as a proactive measure in maturing the media industry especially in aspects of good management practices.
He said this effort is also based on existing provisions in the Federal Constitution and Rukun Negara to foster a security mindset among the community through the role of media practitioners.
“A free media should be one of the catalysts to drive forward the security mindset policy in line with one of the strategic thrusts outlined in the National Security Policy 2021 – 2025 by the National Security Council (MKN). The media industry should work closely with the relevant authorities including certain agencies as strategic measures to embark on a media psychological warfare against the increasing threats of digitalisation.
“The public security mindset developed by the media is the best approach to prepare the public with various types of subversive threats and different ideologies that can jeopardise racial harmony. This is because we are all responsible as the first line of defence in safeguarding the nation against such threats,” Noor Nirwandy added.
Malaysia upholds the principles of democracy and provides a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work, noting that news reporting that is based on accuracy, objectivity and truth would augur well for national security and political stability.
A stable political climate — that is not easily shattered by fake news, false stories and malicious content — along with sustainable government policies and inter-racial harmony are some of the key elements in boosting investors’ confidence towards the country, he added.
Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil recently said Malaysia’s position in the World Press Freedom Index 2023, released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is seen as capable of boosting investors’ confidence in the country.
This is because transparent media reporting is one of the benchmarks for foreign investors before they decide to invest more than RM25 billion for the next 10 years in this country.
Malaysia is ranked 73rd in the World Press Freedom Index 2023, a major improvement from 113 last year.
The index, published on RSF’s website, compares the level of media freedom in 180 countries and regions in the world. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation during the calendar year (January to December).
According to RSF: “Press freedom is defined as the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference, and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety.”
Analysts said the RSF ranking is a remarkable achievement and the highest in Malaysia’s history given that the international body has earlier contended that several draconian laws in the country have yet to be repealed.
National Journalism Laureate Tan Sri Johan Jaafar has also said HAWANA is a platform for journalists to strengthen their commitment and sense of responsibility to the profession.
HAWANA is observed on May 29 annually and this year’s celebration is themed Free Media, Pillar of Democracy, to re-emphasise the issue of media freedom for journalists in carrying out their duties.
The HAWANA 2023 Summit will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on May 28.
Expedite MMC’s Implementation
Meanwhile, Global Risk Journalism Hub co-founder Associate Prof Sara Chinnasamy opined the government and all media industry stakeholders should be consistent in addressing the issue of credibility and public trust in the mainstream media.
“Why and how do we build this credibility? Many parameters can be considered among others through balanced news reporting of the government and the opposition. This parameter should not be ignored as it is among the key indicators evaluated by the RSF under its World Press Freedom Index besides media ownership, etc.
“Being credible means others look at you as a reliable resource, and hence, they will not seek alternative sources or links to other media platforms with a hidden agenda, often carrying news based on secondary sources as well as false content that are confusing and are likely to trigger public alarm,” she said.
Prof Sara , who is also a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, UiTM said the Malaysian media freedom performance at the global level can be effectively enhanced through the establishment of the MMC.
Fahmi has said the draft Bill of the council could be tabled in Parliament as early as before the end of the year, noting that a slew of processes are required before the draft could be brought to the Dewan Rakyat.
Sara said, “We do not want our position to be affected every time the index is released, and we need to intensify our efforts, moving forward. As such, the establishment of the MMC must be expedited as it will help regulate the news organisations in the country as well as to protect journalists.”
“The initiative would augur well for Malaysia’s efforts at ensuring that its commitment to media freedom is consistent, especially in the eyes of the world, hence placing Malaysia as among the nations proactively advocating for media freedom compared to developed nations,” she said.
The council’s establishment should be prioritised in order to protect and improve the credibility of the mainstream media amid the digital onslaught, especially in news reporting.
“These include the widespread concern over misinformation spread on the social media, which tend to spread politics of hate, lies and slander, as well as fake news that are shared to purposely spread factually incorrect information,” Prof Sara said.
Shaping Their Own Future
Sharing his thoughts on media freedom, Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) Chief Executive Officer Datuk Chamil Wariya expressed hope that media owners and practitioners can work together in shaping their own future through the MMC.
“The media should not always expect to be given media freedom on a silver platter by the government, but instead, they should strive to achieve it. The time has come for media practitioners to be united in determining their roadmap for media freedom, without excessive interference from political and ownership influences as well as restrictive legal frameworks.
“All these are crucial for an enabling environment for the media so that journalists can work professionally, allowing them to select, produce and disseminate the right news and information in the public interest, albeit the challenges of the social media, such as fake news, etc,” he said.