Former minister warns stringent media ethic codes may stifle sensitive topic discussion

FORMER communications and multimedia minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak has expressed apprehension regarding the potential consequences of a rigorous media ethics code on reporters’ effectiveness. While acknowledging the code’s intention to combat the proliferation of fake news, Salleh cautioned that its strict implementation might impede journalists from fulfilling their duties optimally.

The remarks from Salleh come in response to the journalists’ Code of Ethics unveiled by the current Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil. While Salleh recognised the significance of safeguarding media independence, he warned that an excessively stringent ethical framework could deter discussions on sensitive topics among media practitioners, potentially hampering investigative reporting efforts.

“Safeguarding media independence is essential to upholding freedom of expression, fostering transparency, and strengthening democracy.

“There is a possibility that overly stringent media ethics could impede investigative reporting and discourage discussions of sensitive topics identified by authorities,” Free Malaysia Today quoted Salleh as saying.

Salleh’s tenure as minister during the years 2015 to 2018 coincided with the introduction of the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 under the administration of former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak. This act, introduced just before the 14th General Election (GE14) was subsequently repealed in 2019 during the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration.

The latest Code of Ethics launched by Fahmi replaced the previous version introduced 35 years ago and encompasses eight key principles including responsibility, transparency, and fairness in information dissemination.

However, it has drawn criticism from human rights groups with concerns raised about potential government control over the media. Lawyers for Liberty have gone as far as describing it as a “backdoor” attempt to revive the “draconian” Anti-Fake News Act.

Similarly, media rights group Gerakan Media Merdeka argued that any journalistic code of ethics in Malaysia should be regulated by the media industry itself rather than by governmental entities.

Veteran journalist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin also questioned the timing of the new code’s introduction suggesting that such regulations should fall under the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Media Council especially considering the pending bill for its establishment in Parliament in June.

“However, the government suddenly and unilaterally launched its own code, even though the Malaysian Media Council Bill hasn’t been presented yet.

“Why rush to unilaterally establish these ethics? Can’t it wait until the Malaysian Media Act is established? Or is someone seeking to stamp his mark?”

On Feb 21, Fahmi announced the forthcoming tabling of the Malaysian Media Council Bill in Parliament in June, following Cabinet approval earlier that day. – Feb 23, 2024


Main photo credit: Astro Awani

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