Returning the press to journalists

A Kadir Jasin

Modified 28 Oct 2018, 5:58 am

COMMENT | The post-May 9 Malaysian media have one very important task to perform – exorcising themselves of the ghosts and demons of the past.

The signs that the ghosts and the demons of the past are still residing in the deep recesses of the subconscious of Malaysian editors and journalists are clear and apparent.

In the meetings I had so far had with them – some officially but many privately – the frequently asked questions were: how free are we under the Pakatan Harapan government and what advice do you have for us?

My answer: your freedom is limited only by your professionalism, expertise and sense of fair play.

You can be sure that there will no longer be wahyu (instructions) from Putrajaya.

But I can’t guarantee if some overzealous or uninitiated low-level civil servants still call you for a "chit-chat" because you are accused of misquoting or misinterpreting a minister’s statement on some sensational issues like LGBT.

In such a situation, my feeling is this: just listen to them and, where possible, explain to them the workings of the media.

Bear in mind many press secretaries and media officers serving the inexperienced ministers are themselves inexperienced.

I deliberately used the phrase “my feeling” instead of "my advice", because I am not in the business of advising you. I am not your adviser.

My job specifications clearly state that I advise only the prime minister. Incidentally, that makes my job as special adviser on media and communication to the prime minister very easy.

What advice can I give to a man who is a consummate and experienced communicator?

Just think of this: I was born in 1947 and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first newspaper article was published a year earlier.

My main task is to assist efforts to develop and promote government agenda of ensuring that the media have the freedom to provide check and balance to the administration of the government.

Where they belong

As I told the ICA Regional Conference 2018 at the Mara Technology University on Thursday, once the possessed journalists, editors and media executives had been thoroughly exorcised, they should be debriefed and imbued with the ideals of fair and independent journalism.

This is to be followed by the depoliticising of the newsrooms and boardrooms.

In the case of media people who refused to be exorcised or where the devils in them refused to leave, they should take a hike or be removed.

In the post-May 9 electoral upset, it was discovered that at least one major Umno-owned media company was actually not owned by Umno.

Yes, Umno still holds some shares but not enough to control the company. Most of its shares had been sold to GLICs. The right to call the shots in this particular media company actually lies with the GLICs.

The whole idea of this exorcising exercise and the proposal for the introduction of self-regulation is to ensure that the likes of (Najib Abdul Razak associates) Habibul Rahman Kadir Shah and Paul Stadlen have no chance to play god to the Malaysian media.

Ghosts and demons of this nature should be sent to purgatory permanently.

Habibul and Stadlen were often quoted as the principal sources of wahyu from Putrajaya during the Najib era.

One encouraging development since the Harapan victory was the move by editors and representatives of media owners to consider the formation of the Malaysian Media Council as the supreme self-regulatory body for the media industry.

It is really quite shameful that we are among the few countries in the world that do not have a media council.

A media council that is legislatively empowered should be able to help create a more conducive environment for the Malaysian media, and may even help to bring back readers, viewers and listeners to traditional media.

To borrow the term used by a member of Harapan's information bureau, the new buzzword for the government-media relationship is "engagement".

Not a bad idea. It is better for the media, government and stakeholders to be constantly engaged than to continue with the incestuous relationship of the past era.

So push the envelope, test the boundary and up the ante but please do so in a fair and responsible manner.

A KADIR JASIN is a veteran journalist and former spokesperson for the Council of Eminent Persons.

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

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