By Razali Ismail, SUHAKAM
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) renews its commitment to protect and promote press freedom in Malaysia and reiterates that freedom of the press is a fundamental component of democratic governance.
Suhakam values the important role of the media and recognises the influence of the media in shaping public opinion. In the context 14th general election, there is an expectation that the media will play the role of fair arbiter, provide an open platform for broader public deliberation, represent a plurality of opinions; and accordingly provide election coverage that gives voters comprehensive, balanced and accurate information.This is critical in enabling the public to make informed choices.
A recent discussion with the media at Suhakam revealed that many journalists working with leading newspapers are compelled to apply self-censorship, and partisan involvement in some media outlets interfere in the activities of journalists. This can lead to a situation where the mainstream press may no longer be regarded as an impartial arbiter, which can represent a threat to our democracy.
In 2018, Malaysia’s press freedom index is at the 145th position out of 180 countries. Suhakam is not ignorant of the risks of misinformation and the circulation of fake news, particularly online, with the aim to manipulate or influence public opinion during the general election. However, journalists claim that the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 has made it even more difficult for them to report news as they see it and Suhakam accepts that the law has been poorly drafted.
The 2018 Press Freedom Day celebrated with the theme “Keeping power in check: media, justice and the rule of law” is particularly relevant to Malaysia and Malaysia’s needs. The Malaysian media must accept its role as the necessary watchdog for the nation, especially during challenging times like the election.
Suhakam is determined to work with all stakeholders to qualitatively improve the role of the media in the future.
RAZALI ISMAIL is the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).