New norms for Malaysian media

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Media practitioners must not be cowed by new challenges and compromise the integrity of our journalistic work, Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) writes.

Every year on 3 May we mark the World Press Freedom Day.

Unlike past years, there were no events held to commemorate this year’s remembrance, with discussions held online as part of efforts to curb the outbreak of the Covid-19 infections.

However, it is hoped that the spirit of solidarity among our media fraternity will remain. The year 2020 brings with it new challenges, not only for Malaysian media practitioners but for our colleagues across the globe.

Many have lost their jobs as media companies downsize their operations, while those who have kept theirs have often faced cuts to their salaries and allowances.

The past year was a good one for press freedom in Malaysia, as reflected by our improved position on the Reporters Sans Frontiers annual press freedom index, in which Malaysia moved up 22 places to rank 101 amongst 180 countries.

Among others, Geramm’s collaboration with the National Union of Journalists Malaysia, Sabah Journalists Association, Federation of Sarawak Journalists Association, Kuching Division Journalists Association and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia has led to the formation of the Malaysian Media Council pro-tem committee, which was tasked with drafting the Malaysian media council bill.

Geramm reiterates our stand that these efforts must be continued by the new Perikatan National government, with support from all stakeholders involved in the process so far.

Recognising that Malaysians and the world at large must be prepared for the “new normal” post Covid-19, Geramm believes there are several ‘legacies’ from the era of the Barisan Nasional government which should not be revived.

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Firstly, restrictions against any media outlet from attending press conferences held at the Prime Minister’s Office should not be revisited, even with the current limitation of ensuring adherence to the “social distancing” guideline.

Any Covid-19 prevention measures which have and will be taken must not be at the expense of the media’s role of providing checks and balances on the government.

Such restrictions could also come from the authorities with at least one confirmed case recently of a journalist from the South China Morning Post who was summoned to Bukit Aman to have her statement recorded over the Hong Kong-based newspaper’s report on undocumented migrants at the Masjid India enhanced movement control order area in Kuala Lumpur.

Secondly, threats or attacks against any media organisation or individual media practitioners appear to be on the rise. In recent months, it was found that there have been an increase in cases of doxxing (revealing online the personal details of others) with the intention of instigating hate or harmful actions against a journalist.

It is understood that there are also WhatsApp groups created solely to monitor reports from a particular media outlet accused of various baseless claims.

With the government’s new norm of broadcasting major press conferences live on Facebook, media practitioners have also been exposed to direct or indirect attacks by netizens, at times touching on unrelated personal issues including race and skin colour.

Although faced with various uncertainties – including a drastic drop in print circulation and advertising revenues – the media’s duty remains unchanged, to deliver accurate, transparent and balanced information to its audience.

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We must be prepared to face any eventualities. We must not be cowed by the circumstances and compromise the integrity of our journalistic work.

All media practitioners are urged to hold on to the ethics of our profession, whether we are on the field, in the office or at home.

We would like to take this opportunity to announce the launch of our official website at https://mediageramm.com – on top of our Facebook page, Instagram @mediageramm and Twitter @Media Geramm

Lastly, we thank all parties who have helped us in our efforts to maintain the freedom and independence of the Malaysian media, and support similar efforts across the region.

We are in Solidarity! Happy World Press Freedom Day.

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