Editors called in to talk about new media laws
UPDATE: Online, journo groups invited to Monday meeting
Online newspapers Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider, Free Malaysia Today, the pro-Umno blog Agenda Daily, and journalist organisations have now been invited by the Attorney-General’s Chambers to discuss the new media laws. An invitation was sent by email to online editors and journalists groups to attend the meeting on Monday morning. Among those invited are the National Union of Journalists, the Women’s Journalists Association, Malaysian Press Institute, the Sportswriters Association, and the Sabah Journalists Association.
As part of the government’s stated intentions to reform media laws, editors of newspapers and broadcasting stations have been summoned to the Attorney-General’s Chambers today and are holding discussions on new media laws and a Media Council by which editors, journalists and publishers would regulate themselves.
None of the online editors were invited. Surprisingly, however, former newspaper editor Ahiruddin Atan is among those who were sent invitations.
Although Ahiruddin’s early career was in journalism, as Rocky Bru he has become Umno’s blogger-in-chief, with a network of bloggers who espouse strongly pro-Barisan Nasional views.
His inclusion seems to reflect the government’s desire — or in reality the desire of Umno-BN politicians — to favour BN-supporting bloggers and rein in the freewheeling discussions and commentaries posted on blogs, Facebook and in Twitter messages which reflect the anti-Barisan sentiments suppressed in the main media.
Broadcasting stations have also been included in today’s discussions, which broadens the effort earlier this year by Wong Chun Wai of the Star and Zainon Ahmad of the Sun to draft proposals to the government for a Press Council. That proposal had received support from all major newspaper and magazine publishers.
Back to square one?
Efforts for a Press Council date back to the days of Tun Abdul Razak in the 1970s. However, today’s discussions brings the media fraternity back full circle to last year, when the Information Ministry and the Home Ministry had led efforts to form their version of a media council.
There have been questions why today’s meeting was necessary, after all the discussions that have gone on since 2010 when the government began media council efforts in earnest.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers were not involved in previous discussions. Today’s meeting is to focus on the prime minister’s announcement of new media laws to replace the Printing Presses and Publications Act. This law covers only printed newspapers and magazines, does not cover Internet publications, and does not cover broadcasting stations which are governed under the Broadcasting Act and the Multimedia and Communications Act.
By only bringing together newspapers, broadcasters and pro-BN bloggers in the form of Rocky Bru and leaving out others, the government has shown a strongly pro-Barisan tilt, especially in leaving out online newspapers such as Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider and Free Malaysia Today as well as other serious social and political organisations such as the Centre for Policy Initiatives and Aliran, which regularly produce articles and commentaries on their web sites or blogs.
Other media organisations such as the journalistic community, through the National Union of Journalists, and media observers such as the Centre for Independent Journalism are also not being consulted.
To some extent, today’s meeting nullifies a power play by Umno politicians: Hishammuddin Hussein, Rais Yatim and Nazri Aziz, the home, information, and law ministers respectively.
Their effort last year was to control the expression of political views through a media consultative council with the information minister and the home minister as co-chairmen. By turning away from a self-regulating press council and recasting the terms of reference to turn the council into a consultative affair left the distinctive impression that the two ministers would dictate to editors what they should do, or influence their editorial decisions, and otherwise co-opt the media into the Barisan Nasional machine.
Newspaper publishers and editors will focus their attention today on trying to ensure an end to newspaper licensing, only one aspect of the more than 20 laws and regulations that affect the media and journalists.
Until further details are available of today’s meeting, it will remain an open question how much real media reform will result from these discussions.
This article was written in advance of today’s meeting