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Breakthrough in Efforts to Set Up Malaysian Regulatory Press Body

Breakthrough in Efforts to Set Up Malaysian Regulatory Press Body

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The WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Committee of Malaysia held a closed-door Editors’ Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur in early February, as a follow up to a similar roundtable that the Committee organised in August last year.

By Ram Anand

February’s roundtable, which saw the participation of some 15 media editors from print, online, digital, radio and vernacular platforms, discussed the possibility of forming a Press Ombudsperson structure in Malaysia to represent the media as well as to act as a mediator with the government. 

The idea of forming an Ombudsperson in Malaysia was initially brought up by editors in the August roundtable and was well received in February’s four-hour discussion.

An overwhelming majority of editors approved the idea, and this approval will in turn give the Committee the mandate and legitimacy to pursue it in greater depth in the coming months. 

It is a minor, yet significant breakthrough in the efforts to form an all-encompassing body to represent the press in Malaysia, primarily because previous efforts have failed to materialise. 

Malaysia first mooted forming a press council even before neighbouring Indonesia strengthened its body in 1999, following a change in administration. The press council there has since gone on to become an encouraging example of a self-regulating, flourishing media scene in Southeast Asia.

In 2013, Malaysian media industry leaders mooted a press council again and submitted a proposal to the government who, in turn, did not follow up or act on the request.

As a result, despite its various promises, the government has continued using criminal laws in order to take action against journalists, including colonial-era legislation such as the Sedition Act. Malaysia is currently ranked 144th in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index and its overall ranking has been gradually declining over the past decade. 

Creating a Press Ombudsperson would attempt to mediate any dissatisfaction between the government and the media in order to avoid the use of criminal laws against journalists. There is hope that this structure could help foster greater trust between the media and the government as a first step before the idea of forming an independent press council in Malaysia is put on the table.

As a press council needs government approval and ratification in parliament, an Ombudsperson structure can be set up independently by industry players, provided a large majority of Malaysian media companies come on board in agreement.

Malaysia’s Media Freedom Committee is now looking to undertake efforts to start a conversation with more stakeholders in order to obtain a larger mandate. In due time, editors and decision-makers from media houses across Malaysia will be able to discuss and outline an Ombudsperson structure that is agreeable to all. 



Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2018-02-20 15:10

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