The aim of the large scale programme is to check on objectivity and propose new laws to protect freedom of expression and information.
The aim is to validate perceptions about media objectivity and propose new laws to protect freedom of expression and information.
The monitoring will begin from the date that Parliament is dissolved and end three days after polling. Eighty monitors whom CIJ has trained will scrutinise reports in print, broadcast and online media.
CIJ chief Masjaliza Hamzah told a press conference today that the programme, called “Watching the Watchdog”, would be part of larger project to create a “robust and transparent electoral system in Malaysia”, which CIJ would undertake in cooperation with the National Institute for Democracy and Electoral Integrity and the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research.
Funds for the media monitoring will come from Asia Foundation, Global Fund for Women, Freedom House, Open Society as well as CIJ’s own coffers.
“We’ll look into fairness, slant, access given to candidates, access to political parties, human rights and gender issues, religion and ethnicity,” Masjaliza said.
During the monitoring period, CIJ will release reports every two or three days on specific issues.
Seventeen print newspapers will be monitored. They are Harian Metro, Sinar Harian, Utusan Malaysia, The New Straits Times, The Star, The Sun, China Press, Oriental Daily, Sin Chew Jit Poh, Makkal Osai, Malaysia Nanban, Utusan Borneo, Daily Express, See Hua Daily of Sabah, See Hua Daily of Sarawak, Utusan Borneo Sarawak and Borneo Post.
The online media are Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider and Bernama. For the broadcast media, the monitors will restrict themselves to news programmes on TV1, TV2, TV3, NTV7 and 8TV.
Associate Professor Tessa J Houghton of the University of Nottingham told today’s press conference that the monitors had signed a code of conduct pledging to maintain independence in their duties.
Houghton, who has done similar work in New Zealand, said coding during the monitoring would be “done at sentence level to avoid bias”.
Professor Zaharom Naim, also of Nottingham University, criticised the mainstream media’s coverage of the 2008 general election, calling them “predictable propagandists” for Barisan Nasional.
He also expressed scepticism of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s commitment to media reform, saying the recent amendments to the Publishing Presses and Printing Act did not meet the expectations he created in his Malaysia Day speech last year, when he announced his administration’s intention to change the act. “Licences can still be revoked anytime,” Zaharom said.
Referring to a recent announcement by Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim that the government would allow all political parties to promote their manifestos on television, Zaharom noted that “he did not state the conditions or set the guidelines”.
“Will all be given equal air time?” he asked.