New ‘journalists’ code of ethics’ – a blatant bid to control the media and erode freedom of speech


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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the launch of a new code of ethics for journalists by Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil on 20 February.

The media have for so long called for the formation of an independent Malaysia media council to limit government interference with the media and to move towards self-regulation.

It is surprising and inappropriate then for the government to launch a supposed improved code of ethics for journalism before the media council has been formally instituted. It is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

It thus raises alarm when Fahmi also confirmed that the Information Department is authorised to rely on the code of ethics to cancel media accreditation cards. This cannot be perceived as anything else but as a standing and continuous threat towards the press.

It is obvious then that the government is using the code of ethics to further strengthen its control over the media. It is now yet another form of control the government exerts over the media, in addition to existing draconian laws such as the Printing Press and Publications Act 1984, the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

This new code of ethics is simply a backdoor way of reviving the anti-fake news law, couched in terms of “journalistic ethics”, where the credibility of any news and its sources will be determined by the government.

How can there be free and independent media when the government gets to decide on what is ‘ethical’ news reporting?

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Fahmi’s further comments that Malaysia’s media landscape was “unique” and not necessarily subject to standards that Western media subscribe to is plainly unacceptable. He implies that the freedom of the press is not wholly applicable in Malaysia.

This is entirely nonsensical, as the freedom of the press is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. It is also a universal concept which is respected and protected by any proper democratic government.

Let us also not forget that Pakatan Harapan ministers like Fahmi Fadzil strongly supported press freedom against government interference when they were in the opposition.

The intention to further extend the reach of the code of ethics to “quasi-journalists” such as online forum moderators, bloggers or influencers who cover news stories only serves to show that the government fully intends to determine and control what news can be disseminated online.

The government must not extend its reach to curb ordinary citizens who discuss current events, as this would be a flagrant violation of the freedom of expression, guaranteed in Article 10.

We cannot ignore the greatest irony and betrayal that PH – whose political success can be largely attributed to the extensive media coverage and guerrilla journalism on the 1MDB scandal – now when in power seeks to solidify government control over the press and be the arbiter of what can be reported in the news or discussed by the public online.

The government must immediately move towards the establishment of an independent media council so that the media industry itself will regulate journalistic ethics and the credibility of the news – instead of creating yet another regulation by which the government can exert more control over the press.

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An independent media and the marketplace of ideas, through traditional platforms or otherwise, is crucial for a healthy and functioning democracy. It cannot be achieved if the government makes itself the sole purveyor of truth and information.

Zaid Malek is the director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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24 Feb 2024 1.17pm

How unique Malaysia is, it doesn’t constitute a controlled media rights.