Media observers are skeptical of the government's claim to announce media reforms tonight.
PETALING JAYA: Promises of reform – or expectations of it – have been made by the government. However, media observers aren’t holding their breath.
Media Defence South East Asia (MDSEA) executive director HR Dipendra said that he was sceptical over Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s claims to media reforms.
“I’d like to think that Najib is committed to reforms, although he doesn’t have the willpower to do it,” he said, referring to the premier’s expected televised speech at 8.45pm tonight.
Viewing the sudden announcement with suspicion, Dipendra also linked it with the general election fever in the air.
“The timing is certainly suspect, with elections possibly nearby… it may be an attempt to win over middle-ground voters,” he added.
According to a Star report, sources close to Najib claimed that the prime minister would be making announcements in regard to several official policies.
The sources claimed that laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance would be affected.
Media-centric regulations such as censorship and annual permit renewals were also expected to be relaxed.
‘Stop treating editors like schoolboys’
Dipendra, however, said that such an attempt might be difficult to bring about, especially with ultra-conservative factions within Umno – Najib’s party – being in favour of such laws.
“We’re hoping that he gives us a firm undertaking (that) all the laws, such as the ISA, the Sedition Act, the PPPA (Printing, Presses and Publications Act)… need to be overhauled and removed.
“There are no two ways about it… (so Najib) can’t choose which side of the bread he wants to butter,” he said.
He added that reviewing and abolishing laws were two different things.
National Union of Journalists (NUJ) general-secretary V Anbalagan agreed with Dipendra, saying that the government needed to give a timeframe for its announcements.
Otherwise, they would end up conveniently forgetting about them, he said.
“They’re always talking about it, but there’s no real action. They talked about removing censorship, (but nothing happened).
“They must always give a timeframe, because then at least we can go back and ask them, ‘What happened?’” Anbalagan told FMT.
Speaking on reform expectations, the NUJ man said he hoped to see a liberalisation of the print media, and the doing away with “treating editors like schoolboys” by the Home Ministry.
Centre for Independent Journalism executive officer Masjaliza Hamzah had similar aspirations, with hopes for stronger guarantees of Internet freedom.
The political release of government-owned media companies was also on her wish list.
“(The government should) relinquish control of Bernama and RTM and make them accountable to the rakyat in view of their public funding,” she said in a statement.
“Any commitment that is less… will be seen as a public relations exercise,” she added.