PETALING JAYA: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has called for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) before the the establishment of a media council in the country.
CIJ director Sonia Randhawa said it was not possible to ask journalists to behave ethically as long as the act was still in place as it could affect their ability to work.
With the act still in force, she said, and the home minister able to repeal newspaper licences on even flimsy grounds, journalists would be cautious about how they report on the government.
“This will end up taking precedence over the interest of the readers. They are one of the key factors in ensuring your livelihood,” she told FMT.
“Even if journalists are not worried about licences, the editors are.
“This is why, even with the change in government, newspapers put what the government says in the first few pages, even if it’s not necessarily in the public’s interest,” she said after a talk at the office of NGO Sisters in Islam.
Sonia, who is a doctoral candidate at a university in Melbourne, said it was important to make sure that newspapers could prioritise the public’s right to information without worrying about how the government would react.
“While the act is still in place, whether consciously or not, they cannot do that. It does not allow for ethical journalism,” she said, adding that a petition asking for the repeal of the law had been circulating for the past few weeks.
The Pakatan Harapan coalition had promised to abolish the PPPA as part of its campaign for the 14th general election.
The previous Barisan Nasional administration had also promised to review the controversial act, which has been seen to curtail freedom of speech, particularly press freedom.
Under the PPPA, all printing presses must obtain a licence which can be revoked or suspended for any period of time.
As for the media council, Sonia said, different models were being considered.
She told FMT she strongly recommended that such a council include representatives from the public and civil society, not just publishers, editors and journalists.
“This is really important,” she said. “We need representation that allows for diversity within the media council.”
Adding that credibility was also an important consideration, she said nearly all news organisations were now in a “difficult position”.
“Whether it is because of ownership now at odds with the government, they need to be looking at building credibility.”
Likewise, she said, public interest should be the focus of broadcasters in general.
“Anyone who is given a public broadcasting licence in the country should fill a minimum public interest criteria. It is a really good opportunity to try and ensure the media environment is friendly towards a diversity of views and opinions.
“It cannot be as what (Communications and Multimedia Minister) Gobind Singh Deo said, that they will ensure that opposition voices will still be heard on RTM. That is not what we want. It is not his job to say that.
“What we want is for RTM to be out of your control completely so that you do not get to decide. We want it to be responsible to us as the Malaysian public and serve the public interest,” she said.
She also called for an independent broadcasting commission to oversee the issue of licences based on public interest, and to ensure that content is free from political bias.