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Time to free up the press

  • Independent press must be free from intervention from governments or other political or economic factors.

Sin Chew Daily

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo has said he would form a new judicial team to study the abolition or revision of Anti-Fake New Act passed in the Parliament in April.

He will also study the relevance of other laws such as the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission Act and the Penal Code restricting the freedom of press.

Coincidentally newly minted Home Affairs Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said his ministry would review seven unsuitable national security laws, including also the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

Press freedom is one of the key areas in PH's election manifesto for its first 100 days in office. After the coalition won the 14th general elections, PH leaders have reiterated their commitment to press freedom.

We welcome the new government's pledge and assurance to free up the press, and hope the promise can be fulfilled within the specified time frame.

Based on the United Nations' definition, the precondition for press freedom is a liberal, independent and diverse media environment, while independent press is free from intervention from governments or other political or economic factors, including the freedom of infrastructure used for news reporting.

Here, independence underscores the importance of professional standards and public interests which will become the determining factors for news content.

A diverse media environment, meanwhile, is necessary to curtail press monopoly and support the coexistence of as many different media platforms as possible. This diversity will provide maximum options and participation to the public in terms of news and viewpoints.

Where this is concerned, it is reassuring to note that Gobind Singh's remarks have indeed incorporated the key elements of press freedom, including the excessively broad coverage of Anti-Fake News Act and its ease of being abused by the authorities.

It is unfair to the journalists if their judgmental articles are withheld. As such, their news reports must never be subjected to any restriction.

This pledge has a lot to do with institutional reforms and a shift in mentality. The government should loosen its grip so as to allow media organizations to implement self-censorship through the setting up of a media council.

The same proposal was made by the previous administration but unfortunately there has been no follow-up action since. Now that the new administration has been installed, it is time for the government to give the media the free hand to dominate in journalistic moral discipline in the absence of government intervention.

The former BN government proposed a smart partnership with the media prior to the 14th general elections so as to more effectively deliver government messages to the public.

The proposal was made because some of the public policies had been distorted and misinterpreted by people on the social media. It was believed that the right messages could be more effectively delivered to the public if the media had expanded freedom to report and discuss various government polices.

The Pakatan Harapan government should start building an equal partnership with the media in enhancing the quality of Malaysian media and upping the public's ability to understand, utilize and judge the information delivered by the media with the hope this will lift the government's administrative efficiency while fortifying press freedom.

 

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