Malaysiakini Letter

Media council: The ideological battlefield

Kow Kwan Yee
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | While the recent appointment of 17 members of the pro-tem committee to set up the Malaysian Media Council (MMC) might be seen as a good step, but it would also indicate the new challenge among the practitioners of the media fraternity.

The challenge would be the problem of ideological contradictions and ambiguity in the discussion about the direction and structure for the establishment of the MMC.

The history of establishing MMC shows that stakeholders including the media practitioners, the civil society and the government simply have a different understanding of the media role in this democratic setting, hence the different expectation on the council.

This is one of the reasons why the formation of MMC has yet to be materialised when it was first mooted almost 40 years ago.

Throughout the years, there were numerous attempts to establish a media council with different models suggested, among others, it should be a self-regulatory body to improve media standards and ethics as well as to provide an avenue for the arbitration of public complaints.

The idea to establish a media council was first uttered in 1973, followed by another round of discussion during a National Communication Policy Convention 10 years later.

Both of the efforts were swayed away by time because the concept had been viewed as another form of press control.

In the early 2000s, the government asked the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) to conduct a study on the possibility of the establishment of the MMC and this had later resulted in a draft of a Malaysian Media Council Bill 2002.

However, the proposed bill was criticised by the media entities and the civil society as it was mentioned in the draft that the appointment of the members would be done based on the advice of the prime minister to the king and this indicated no guarantee on the independence of the council.

In 2005–2011, the government took numerous initiatives in establishing the MMC by suggesting that the council be co-chaired by the information minister and the home minister and by urging the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to lead the process.

However, the suggestion was rejected again by the media fraternity, including the NUJ, stating that this did not provide any semblance of independence from the government.

Hegemonic ideology

There are times when the media organisations and the civil society might seem to be independent by having the freedom to express their opinion about the MMC, but some of them end up becoming an expansion of the state hegemony.

For example, the previous proposals to include the government in the MMC and the appointment of the members based on the advice of the prime minister to the king is simply other ways for the ruling power to exert its ideology.

It is also obvious that some media representative groups succumb to the government’s narratives and dominant ideologies on how the press should support the development agenda.

This is very tricky especially when the politicians keep openly advising the media practitioners on the “proper” way of news reporting for the sake of national security, racial harmony and economic development.

It is important to assert that while the government of the day might promise press freedom by pushing the formation of MMC, but the media representatives such as MPI and NUJ, as well as the civil society, should be mindful of how the government continues to exist and enforce its hegemonic ideas invisibly.

The pro-tem committee members should be aware that the MMC should not be a single entity with one mission, vision and ideology, but a self-regulatory body that could accommodate voices of many relevant stakeholders, including the general public, which are equally important. 

KOW KWAN YEE is a former Malaysiakini journalist. She is currently a lecturer at the University of Wollongong Malaysia-KDU and also a PhD researcher on media reforms and activism.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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