Setting up of media council should go together with repeal of restrictive press law

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The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) looks forward to working with the pro tem committee to work on the establishment of a self-regulatory Malaysian Media Council.

The CIJ would like to reiterate that for the Malaysian Media Council to be successful, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) must be abolished before or when the media council is set up.

Previous efforts to set up a media council started decades ago and mainly did not succeed because the government would not abolish the PPPA.

To have both the PPPA and the media council exist simultaneously would defeat the purpose of having a self-regulatory body to regulate media standards. It would be difficult for the public and the media industry to take the media council seriously if the Ministry of Home Affairs still had the power to send show-cause letters to the media, summon editors and threaten to revoke licences.

The setting up of the media council should be contingent on the abolishment of the PPPA. The media council is meant to improve media standards and ethics and contribute to the credibility of news media organisations by upholding international standards and in providing an avenue for the arbitration of public complaints. It is most useful in doing so when it is a voluntary exercise by the media industry, not mandated by the government.

The PPPA, on the other hand, is about giving the government control over the media. We have seen it wielded over the years to ensure that the media toes the government line and does not threaten it politically. This has not necessarily raised ethical standards amongst the media as there have been many cases of unethical media practices that do not invite government sanction, as long as they were in line with the government’s political objectives.

The CIJ and many civil society groups have long advocated for the repeal of the PPPA as it undermines the freedom of expression guaranteed in our Federal Constitution and does not constitute a legitimate, proportionate or reasonable restriction on this fundamental right.

We welcome the efforts of the government in facilitating the process of the setting up of the media council and in conducting consultations with the media industry, civil society and other stakeholders.

We hope that the government will sustain and step up its efforts to build a society where the freedom of expression is protected, including by fulfilling its manifesto promises of abolishing the PPPA and other draconian laws.

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