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Malaysiakini has received another international award, this time for being a pioneer in “testing and pushing the boundaries of free speech and press freedom in Malaysia”.

The one-year-old news website will receive the Free Media Pioneer Award from the [#1] International Press Institute [/#] (IPI), a global network of editors and media executives, later this month.

“Its ( Malaysiakini’s ) declared aim is to test and push the boundaries of free speech and press freedom in Malaysia by providing credible and up-to-date news and analysis and to counter the culture of self-censorship in the mainstream media,” said the Vienna-based media organisation yesterday in a [#2] statement, [/#] announcing the award.

Malaysiakini operates against a backdrop of harsh government restrictions on independent and pro-opposition print media,” the statement added.

According to IPI, malaysiakini , which was launched in November 1999, has gained tremendous popularity with its mix of unbiased news coverage, investigative journalism, in-depth analysis and commentary written in English and Malay.

IPI noted that Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s party, Umno, and its allies own or control the main newspapers and broadcasting stations in the country.

Strict licensing requirements under the Printing Presses and Publication Act make it virtually impossible for independent newspapers to emerge, added IPI.

Last year, a range of Malay-language independent publications such as Detik, Esklusif and Al Wasilah were banned by the Home Ministry, citing biased reporting as one of the reasons.

PAS media organ Harakah was reduced from being published twice a week to just twice a month, in a move apparently to check its swift growing circulation which has topped 300,000 copies per issue.

Testing ground

IPI, whose members include publishers, chief executive officers and editors of newspapers and TV stations around the world, said malaysiakini is using the Internet as a testing ground for publishing stories which are of public concern without fear of recrimination.

The organisation’s executive board are represented by chairman Hugo Butler, editor-in-chief of Zurich’s Neue Zurcher Zeitung ; vice-chairman Sang-Hoon Bang, publisher, president and CEO of Seoul’s The Chosun Ilbo ; HDS Greenway, who is a columnist in The Boston Globe , and Richard Tait, editor-in-chief of UK’s ITN.

“The ‘new media’ remains the sole opportunity to develop a free and independent press in Malaysia,” said IPI.

“So far, the Malaysian government (with an eye on the economic benefits of the Information Age) has refrained from censoring the new technology,” IPI added, further saying that malaysiakini believes the government will eventually come to understand the need for information liberation in the IT era.

Great odds

The annual IPI Free Media Pioneer Award was established by IPI in 1996 to “honour individuals and organisations who have fought against great odds to ensure freer and more independent media in their country”.

The award is co-sponsored by the US-based Freedom Forum, a non-partisan, international foundation dedicated to free press.

Previous winners of the Free Media Pioneer Award are the Press and Society Institute, Peru (2000); Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association, Ethiopia (1999); Radio B-92, Yugoslavia (1998); Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia (1997), and NTV Russia (1996).

The Free Media Pioneer Award will be presented to malaysiakini during the IPI World Congress in New Delhi, India, on Jan 29.

Among those who are scheduled to address the congress are Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and the Dalai Lama.

Malaysiakini ’s latest accolade came just two months after editor Steven Gan won the Press Freedom Award bestowed by New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ([#2] Malaysian journalist wins international press freedom[/#] , Nov 24).

Early last year, malaysiakini ’s news editor Fathi Aris Omar won a grant of US$1,000 from Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres, which gave out four such awards to Southeast Asian journalists for their commitment to press freedom.

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