Selangor Journal

HAWANA: Foreign journalists laud Malaysia’s improved press freedom index

KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — Come Monday (May 29), the journalists’ fraternity in Malaysia will celebrate the National Journalists Day 2023 (HAWANA 2023) amid the rapidly evolving media landscape and a new benchmark that indicates the improvement of press freedom in the country.

Although the definition of press freedom can be highly subjective for many, felicitations have been pouring in from regional and international counterparts who are happy to note the country has moved up in the press freedom index.

And while they commended the new press freedom index, they also noted that there is still room for improvement, and pointed to the numerous challenges ahead — including that posed by citizen journalism and social media, dwindling revenues and growth of media outfits, fake news and disinformation, and the never-ending digital disruption.

They cited the change in the country’s political scene over the last few years including the change of government, the rise of social media, and the reformist agenda of the government of the day as being among the contributors to the improvement in the press freedom index in Malaysia.

In the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, Malaysia rose to the 73rd position with 62.83 points out of 180 countries compared to the 113th spot with 51.55 points in 2022.

The annual index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently also showed that Malaysia ranked the highest among Asean countries in press freedom — ahead of Thailand (106), Indonesia (108), Singapore (129), the Philippines (132), Brunei (142), Cambodia (147), Laos (160), Myanmar (173), and Vietnam (178).

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) is encouraged to be part of the press corps in a country that is making gains in terms of press freedom, as evidenced in the recently-released World Press Freedom Index 2022 by Reporters Without Borders.

FCCM welcomed this achievement and hoped there will be a continued improvement under a reformist government to the regulatory framework that governs the press, which includes laws such as the Sedition Act, Communications and Multimedia Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

“FCCM and its members are keen to play a role in this process and hope to engage all stakeholders, including the authorities, on the way forward,” it said in its written reply to Bernama.

HAWANA proof of government’s commitment to media freedom

Meanwhile, Indonesian editors and senior journalists described the celebration of HAWANA for the third time as proof of the government’s commitment and determination to ensure media freedom in Malaysia continues to flourish.

President of the Indonesian branch of the Malaysian-Indonesian Journalists’ Association (ISWAMI) Asro Kamal Rokan said the cooperation of media organisations in both countries is also encouraged by the government to overcome all issues related to the media, including fake news, and to overcome the extreme challenges in the era of digitisation and globalisation.

“The government cannot function well when the media is not critical,” said the former editor of the Republika newspaper and head of the ANTARA News Agency.

“Happy Malaysian Journalists’ Day to all those who never stop fighting for the interests of the people and stand up for the people in voicing their conscience,” said Asro.

The head of the Indonesian Journalists’ Association, Atal Depari, praised the government’s consideration in giving freedom to journalists to establish the Malaysian Media Council, just like the relatively free Dewan Pers (Press House) in Indonesia.

Atal, who is unable to attend the ceremony this time due to work commitments, believes the celebration will continue to be a platform to promote the development of media freedom in Malaysia.

President of London-based INNOVATION Media Consulting Juan Señor, in his message to Malaysian journalists, said; “I am writing to express my support for your work in upholding the free press in Malaysia. Your commitment to truth, accuracy, and fairness is essential to a healthy democracy. Your improvement in the World Press Freedom Index is a testament to this.

“Journalists must be allowed to do their jobs without fear of reprisal. The public has a right to know what their government is doing, and the free press is essential for ensuring that this right is upheld.”

He also urged Malaysians to support their free press and let the government know that they value a free press.

Challenges of Social Media and Global Platforms

Meanwhile, the Head of the Indonesian Editors’ Forum Arifin Asydhad believes the media in Indonesia and Malaysia are almost equally marginalised following the dominance of social media in the community as well as global platforms in the mass media’s ecosystem.

He said journalists are responsible for releasing accurate information with various rules and codes of ethics while social media produces information to the public without limitations, and therefore journalists need to continue to push for social media to be accountable.

“In Indonesia, regulation on global platforms to support quality journalism is being fought for. The next step is to regulate social media. This regulation can protect the public’s right to get true and accurate information,” he said.

“What the community of journalists in Indonesia is doing is very important for Malaysia to practice. In conjunction with HAWANA 2023, journalists should see this issue more clearly and reform the existence of social media and global platforms,” ​​said Arifin, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Kumparan news portal.

Domestic Political Scene and Press Freedom

Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) World Executive Advisor Thepchai Yong said the promising improvement in press freedom in Malaysia reflects the positive transformation in the country’s media landscape due to the change in political leadership.

“I am glad to witness the positive transformation in Malaysia’s media landscape as the change of government has brought about a more tolerant media environment. There is no more tight control or intolerance towards criticism.

“Malaysia stands out as a good example of how the media environment has experienced remarkable improvements,” he told Bernama.

Meanwhile, Senior Fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Oh Ei Sun, attributed Malaysia’s improvement in the press freedom index to the domestic political scene in the country over the past few years.

He noted the Malaysian media scene has been much liberalised partly as a result of frequent changes of government which rendered political interference timider.

“It could only be hoped that this liberalising trend could continue. But this is an outstanding performance by the increasingly bold Malaysian journalists,” he said when contacted by Bernama.

However, the analyst opined that the development may be disrupted if the conservative and regressive forces dominate the political scene once again.

May 29 has been gazetted as National Journalists’ Day in conjunction with the publication of the first newspaper in Malaysia, Utusan Melayu, on May 29, 1939, which became the first media platform in the country.

The HAWANA 2023 celebration will be held in Ipoh, Perak, from May 27 to May 29 with the theme Free Media, Pillar of Democracy, to re-emphasise the issue of media freedom for journalists in carrying out their duties. It will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on May 28.

— Bernama

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