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Clear strategy vital to achieve free and effective media

ANN/THE STAR – A clear strategy is needed to ensure that the press can continue to operate freely and securely, says Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar.

In conjunction with the upcoming National Journalists Day (Hawana) celebrations, the veteran journalist said Malaysia must honour all its pledges to ensure freedom of the media.

“This is to ensure that the media will be able to play a role as an effective check and balance,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a report stating that Malaysia had been ranked 73rd with 62.83 points in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index compared with 113th spot at 51.55 points last year.

Malaysia is also ranked the highest among ASEAN countries, ahead of Thailand (106), Indonesia (108), Singapore (129), the Philippines (132), Brunei (142), Cambodia (147), Laos (160), Myanmar (173) and Vietnam (178).

The index, published on the RSF website, compares the level of media freedom in 180 countries and regions in the world.

Johan, also a Tokoh Wartawan Negara (National Eminent Journalist), said he expected some kind of commitment from the government to at least relook archaic and irrelevant laws to prove to the world that it was serious in ensuring press freedom in the country.

He said that Pakatan Harapan had previously pledged to repeal and abolish laws that stifled press freedom.

“Let’s start with the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984. Abolish that first as a sign of sincerity,” he added.

Pakatan promised to review and abolish laws that restrict freedom of speech, including the PPPA, as part of its election manifesto.

Last month, Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail reportedly said that the PPPA was still needed to ensure public peace. “The Prime Minister understands better than anyone else how a biased media can harm an individual or a party and this is a fact,” he had said.

To ensure the media plays a role as an effective check and balance, he suggested the government appoint a representative from the media fraternity to sit on the Senate.

NSTP group managing editor and Berita Harian group editor Datuk Ahmad Zaini Kamaruzzaman said this year’s Hawana should be a continuation of last year’s theme of the media being the “voice of the people”.

“The focus should still be on the struggle to increase media freedom in our country.

“Although media freedom has improved and is more positive now, there is still a lot of room for improvement,” he added. In this regard, he said the government needed to ensure that media freedom was given its due importance.

Ahmad Zaini also said that regardless of who becomes prime minister or which party helms the government, the interests of the nation and the people should be the priority and not the individual or party.

“The government and political leaders need to end the old culture of controlling the media.

“Give proper freedom to the media as the Fourth Estate for the sake of the people and the country,” he added.

Apart from amending laws that stifle media freedom, Ahmad Zaini said the proposed Malaysian Media Council should be turned into a reality this year following a protracted delay in its setting up.

Meanwhile, journalism advocacy group Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) said despite the country’s improvement in media freedom rankings, it should not be a cause of satisfaction.

“We need a stronger commitment from the government to ensure greater and more effective media freedom. “The revival of the proposed Malaysian Media Council by the current administration can be a good step to promote and protect media freedom,” it said.

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