KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — Media practitioners welcomed today a federal minister’s proposal for a National Journalists’ Day to celebrate their profession, but said it should not deviate from the fundamental constraints they face in carrying out their job daily.
The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) said that it “cautiously welcomed” the idea mooted by Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak yesterday.
“While recognition for the work that journalists do and the role of the Fourth Estate is welcomed, IoJ stresses that such celebrations should not distract from fundamental issues concerning media freedom,” it said in a statement.
It pointed out that Malaysia still ranks only 146th in the World Press Freedom Index, and that journalists still face threats of criminal action by authorities, including the use of Sedition Act, in their line of work.
“The National Journalists Day should not distract the government and leading media practitioners from the struggle to ensure the media is allowed to operate freely and independently without any interference or threats of criminal action,” it added.
“Any celebration of the press should be done in the spirit of press freedom, and this includes dismantling laws that curtails press freedom, and increase commitment to increase protection for journalists and whistleblowers,” it added.
Another group comprising journalists and media advocates calling themselves Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) also said the idea was welcomed, but added that issues concerning the professional challenges journalists face should be “abandoned.”
“The welfare of journalists needs to be taken care of and the rightful respect must be accorded. Journalists often get blamed over unfavourable reports, regardless of political divide,” its spokesman Fazallah Pit told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
“These efforts [to improve journalists welfare] must go hand-in-hand with any celebration,” he added.
Fazallah also stressed that the alternative media should also be involved for any such events, as in the past, such occasions were conducted with the participation of mainstream media alone.
“I hope it does not involved the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) alone, but also involves other media groups.
“Most of the time, the information (for such celebration) seems to stop at mainstream media alone. Alternative media too must be involved,” he said.
NUJ president Mohd Taufek Razak said his union had mooted the idea for a National Journalists Day to the minister previously.
“NUJ feels that the event is good to unite journalists, whilst strengthening our bond and exchanging views about issues, welfare, contributions and the role the media can play to help in the development of the nation, while pushing aside political agendas of political parties,” he told Malay Mail Online.
But, like the others, Taufek said the celebration must be free from any political agenda in order for its objectives to be fulfilled.
Journalists groups have consistently raised concerns about Putrajaya’s use of restrictive laws on the media.
Aside from Sedition Act, the Communications and Multimedia Act had also been used in the past to block news websites and also to conduct raids in the offices of media organisations.
Last year, Attorney-General Tan Sri Apandi Ali proposed strengthening the Official Secrets Act in order to charge journalists who protect sources that had broken secrecy laws.