Tempo editor proposes key principles for Malaysian media council

A media council is effective only if members are willing to commit to the regulations set by the body and to respect its authority, says Tempo chief editor Wahyu Dhyatmika.

SHAH ALAM: The chief editor of Indonesian news magazine Tempo has called for adherence to two key principles in the establishment of Malaysia’s independent media council.

Wahyu Dhyatmika said it was essential to ensure non-interference of the state in media affairs and the security of the press against criminal sanction except with the council’s leave.

In Indonesia, the government does not interfere in the handling of complaints against the media and police reports cannot be filed against media organisations until the Indonesian press council decides on the matter.

“If the council decides there’s no malice in a press coverage or press article, then the complainer cannot go to the police,” Wahyu told FMT.

“There’s also no outside interference when it comes to handling and solving complaints or matters related to press freedom.

“Sometimes the press will be found guilty for certain articles under the code of ethics. We then have to file a retraction or apologise, but only after the press council deliberates and decides,” he said when met at the Regional Conference on Peaceful Coexistence here.

A Malaysian media council is in the works, with a draft bill already formulated by a protem committee.

The committee’s adviser, A Kadir Jasin, has said that Indonesia’s press council was a good example to follow.

Wahyu said the principles upheld by the Indonesian press council protected press freedom and represented a radical departure from the past, when police reports could be filed directly against journalists for libel or defamation, with time in prison a possibility.

He said Malaysia’s media council should try to apply the two principles he mentioned if it agreed with the philosophy behind it, “which is to protect the freedom of the press”.

In 2018, Tempo was the target of a protest by an Islamist group that perceived a cartoon it published as an insult to its leader.

Tempo’s editors decided to have a dialogue with the protestors to show that there was no malice intended, but the group responded aggressively, harassing the chief editor.

Wahyu said the incident should not have taken place and was unlawful as the right channel to lodge a complaint was through the press council, which would then summon both parties before coming to a decision.

“They cannot lodge their complaints directly to a press office or stage a rally and protest in front of a media organisation’s office,” he said.

“The lesson we learnt was that we should not address a crowd like that. We should have just directed them to the press council. It’s not our obligation to receive and sit down with the protestors.”

He said a media council would be effective only if the members of the press were willing to commit to the regulations set by the body and to respect its authority.

He also said there was no resistance against Indonesia’s press council when it was established as the various media agencies were familiar with the pains of not having press freedom.

“We all understood the risk of not having this kind of body. If we let our fate be decided by the government or Parliament or any other institution outside of the press, then we risk losing our freedom.

“So, in order to be free, we need to show the public that we handle complaints properly. We need to show the public that we are able to commit to and follow the rules that we set upon ourselves.”