Fauwaz Abdul Aziz
March 29, 2008
The newspapers have to go ‘back to basics’ in terms of journalistic and professional ethics if they are to remain relevant in Malaysian society today, said a report by three media watchdogs. If they do not heed the message made clear by voters on March 8 – that voters had not been taken in by the powerful pro-BN media machinery – the newspapers would risk losing the last remaining shreds of credibility and relevance that they enjoy, the report added.
Launching the report today, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran said this return to the fundamental role and purpose of journalism includes doing away with government-prescribed ‘ratios’ that determine how many ‘pro-Barisan Nasional’ (BN) versus ‘pro-Opposition’ reports are published.
“(The general election) really showed how irrelevant the kind of coverage in these newspapers (was) because, despite the bombardment of these (pro-BN) articles… and ads…, the results showed otherwise,” she told a press conference at CIJ’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
“Something had happened, and I think the people had already made up their minds not to believe the newspapers and maybe the ads just went beyond the limit. People just said, ‘forget it, lah’.
“I think it’s really time to go back to the basics of what journalism is all about. That is step one. We should not have to say what is the ratio of what is pro-BN and what is pro-Opposition,” she added.
The report – a quantitative analysis of the election reporting of six English, Malay and Tamil-language newspapers – was a ‘Media Monitoring Initiative’ jointly-conducting by CIJ, Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) and Charter 2000-Aliran.
The report provided a quantitative breakdown of newspaper articles in relation to BN component parties and BR parties (PKR, DAP and PAS). According to the report, The Star was the most partial among English newspapers in terms of elections reporting in favour of Barisan Nasional (BN) with 63.12 percent its election reports being ‘pro-BN’.
Various pro reports
The daily was also found to have had the smallest proportion (5.5 percent) of pro-Opposition reports, while 31.3 percent of its stories were ‘neutral’.
‘Pro-BN’ and ‘pro-Opposition’ reports refer to those that put the BN coalition or opposition party in a positive light.
‘Neutral’ reports, on the other hand, are those that provide space for the various parties concerned to give their side of the story. Neutral reports also pertain to those stories which do not contain any clear ‘persuasions’ in favour of or against one coalition or party, said Gayathry.
Not far behind The Star in terms of partiality towards the BN was New Straits Times (NST), Gayathry said further.
While the NST had slightly more space (5.9 percent) for pro-Opposition stories than the Star, it had only slightly more (31.31 percent) of neutral stories.
In terms of pro-BN stories, the NST is up there with The Star as having 60.29 percent of its stories being in favour of the ruling coalition.
The Sun was found to have dedicated the most space (40.87 percent) in its pages to ‘neutral stories’. Just over 16 percent of its stories, furthermore, could be described as pro-Opposition.
Pro-BN stories, however, still dominated the “free” newspaper with just under 43 percent.
Other than the English newspapers, the three broadsheets covered by the Media Monitoring Initiative were Malay daily Utusan Malaysia, and Tamil dailies Malaysia Nanban and Makkal Osai.
Utusan Malaysia had allotted about 83 percent of its pages for pro-BN reports, and only 1.89 percent for pro-Opposition reports.
Of all six newspapers, Malaysia Nanban and Makkal Osai contained the most space for pro-Opposition stories.
While 23 percent of Makkal Osai’s election reports were ‘pro-Opposition stories, Malaysia Nanban carried pro-Opposition reports that took up 19 percent of its pages.
Makkal Osai’s pro-BN stories took up 66 percent of its pages while 70 percent of Malaysia Nanban’s stories were pro-BN.
Gayathry said the report could not provide a quantitative analaysis of the Chinese-language newspapers as there were not enough human resources to conduct the monitoring exercise systematically and regularly.
Ensure justice is done
In addition to the internal reforms of newspaper organisations, the government needs to allow for the emergence of more publications and media houses so that the ensuing increased competition can ensure the justice is being done to the journalism profession, the report recommended.
“For this to be done, the laws that govern the licencing of media need to be relaxed while anti-monopoly regulations (should be) introduced to create a healthy market of ideas and information.”
Restoring the people’s faith in the existing print media houses also require the doing away of laws that impede the growth of diverse, plural and credible media, the report said further.These include the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Communications and Multimedia Act, the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Act.
“In their place, there are more effective models of self-regulation that will ensure that rights and responsibility grow hand-in-hand.
“The media bosses need to take the challenge to set aside ringgit and sen differences and to take on board the task of demanding that these laws be dismantled. The governing parties at the federal and state levels should know it is in their interest to support this move.”
There is a strong message in the above report to the Managing Editors and their teams in The New Straits Times, The Star and Utusan Malaysia and those in TV3. In this list, I would personally include BERNAMA which is headed by a Badawi bodekist, Dato Anuar Zaini. They should take notice of the findings in this report, stop being lapdogs of the Government in power, learn the basics of good journalism and television, and behave like a true Fourth Estate.
We need accurate, balanced and careful coverage based on the principle that a well informed public will make intelligent choices. Malaysians are increasingly Internet savvy, and can also find their own information. Otherwise, our mainstream media will face serious consequences.
Civil Society Groups—the Fifth Estate— led by Haris Ibrahim of The Peoples’ Parliament, Raja Petra Kamaruddin and Institut Kajian Dasar Executive Director Khalid Jaffar are now leading the campaign to boycott the mainstream media and advertisers and companies who use them. Anwar Ibrahim specifically called for the boycott of Utusan Malaysia and TV3. Let us hurt their pockets by supporting the call to boycott the mainstream media.—Din Merican