A clampdown on press coverage of tomorrow’s Bersih rally has been in the works and the Centre for Independent Journalism has received word that editors have been told to play down reports on the rally. One journalist told CIJ that only statements by the prime minister, deputy prime minister, the KL mayor, home minister and the police should be carried. A few reporters said assignments had been made and stories written but were not published.
CIJ noted with concern that even a court order to the home minister was played down: the NST did not report it and the Star only online. The Sun and Utusan Malaysia carried reports both online and in print. CIJ noted that the Sun continued to be the only major newspaper with balance coverage of Bersih.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) wishes to draw attention to the fact that there has been significantly less print media coverage of the Bersih 3.0 rally and its aims, compared to last year’s event.
CIJ began monitoring articles on Bersih 3.0 on 14 April 2012, two weeks before the scheduled 28 April rally. This matched an identical study conducted last year which began two weeks before the 9 July 2011 rally. CIJ monitored articles in four newspapers – Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, The Star and theSun.
In the corresponding period last year, Utusan Malaysia published 316 articles on Bersih compared with only 10 this year. This represents a fall of 97%. The New Straits Times had a similarly drastic drop of 92%, with only eight articles published this year compared to 97 in 2011. The Star had a 91% drop with only nine articles this year compared to 104 in the same period last year. theSun performed relatively better with a drop of 62%; it published 10 articles for Bersih 3.0 rally compared to 26 for last year’s rally.
Coverage by Utusan Malaysia and the New Straits Times remains largely negative. There was an increase in neutral articles published in The Star, with six out of the nine articles on Bersih so far recorded as neutral. Of the four, theSun tops the list of most balanced coverage with eight of the 10 articles recorded as neutral, one as positive, and one as negative.
CIJ would also like to highlight that only theSun and Utusan Malaysia published both online and in their print editions the order from Justice Rohana Yusuf for Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to clarify his statement that Bersih 3.0 was not a security threat. This was related to Bersih 2.0’s judicial review application of the minister’s decision to ban the coalition last year. The Star only published this news in its online version while New Straits Times did not publish it at all.
Given the significance of the Bersih 3.0 rally and the issues it raises, it is alarming that a matter of such great public interest has received a near-blackout by the print media. This can only fuel speculation that Utusan Malaysia, the New Straits Times and The Star are deliberately toning down their Bersih coverage — at best, of their own accord, or at worst, due to interference from the government or the political parties which own them.
CIJ views these statistics on the media coverage of Bersih 3.0 rally as a clear example of how the print media is still not free to report fairly and accurately in Malaysia. Print media’s poor performance as provider of accurate information contradicts Malaysia’s rise in global indices on media freedom and the liberalisation promise behind the recent amendments to the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA).
CIJ calls for a complete repeal of the PPPA and a review of the ownership of the print media by political parties."