Malaysia Baru and its promise of media freedom

It is an ongoing effort that serves to either eradicate or rectify past anomalies in governance and biased practices

pic by TMR FILE

IT HAS been about 18 months since the new government is at the helm of New Malaysia (Malaysia Baru) and within this timeframe, some notable changes have taken place.

Granted, the promises pre-14th General Election were made to ensure Malaysia is put on the right path again but unfortunately, the new government met with unexpected challenges in terms of the extremely high national debt.

Notwithstanding the debt issue, the strategy by the government to put in place the right foundation and best practices must be applauded. It is an ongoing effort that serves to either eradicate or rectify past anomalies in governance and biased practices.

This is important especially now that the global business landscape is revolutionising fast with the advent of digital and new technologies.

Where media is concerned, in April this year, it was reported that Malaysia jumped a significant 22 places to 123rd in the latest World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders. It was also noted that the general environment for journalists is much more relaxed, and the readers are able to enjoy more nuanced and balanced range of viewpoints compared to the stringent controls and censorship that were common in the past.

As part of the changing media landscape, the government recognised the importance of media independence, thus initiated the formation of the Malaysian Media Council and a guiding Code of Conduct. Its formation is spearheaded by an alliance of Malaysian senior journalist groups.

This was one of the pledges by the Pakatan Harapan government. There is a need for media independence to ensure its business sustainability. For this to happen, the media must be apolitical. Take for instance the Utusan Malaysia, which was highly dependent on the government for revenue through advertisement placements. Its income stream came to an abrupt halt when the federal government stopped spending.

The press went through difficult times, undertaking a separation scheme for its reporters. But there are still talks about a revival of the newspaper.

Media Prima Bhd, another big name in the media fraternity, is also going through changes after incurring substantial losses in 2017.

Despite its positive results in 2018, the conglomerate underwent restructuring due to declining circulation and viewership of traditional media channels.

The Star Media Group Bhd too has been revamping its operations and ceasing its printing operations in Penang as part of its rationalisation plan and its drive towards digitalisation.

For Malaysia’s public broadcaster, Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) received many proposals to transform it into internationally recognised media broadcaster.

While those proposals were reviewed, the broadcaster had also begun revolutionising operating protocols ie transitioning from analogue to the digital landscape in high- and standard-definition broadcasts.

The broadcaster is also implementing its transformation plans for programme services in line with the Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0).

Citing the recent Digital News Report 2019 commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, RTM stood tall in first place as the most trusted media organisation, beating out Astro Awani and NTV7 in second and third place respectively. It is important to note that in 2017, RTM came in ninth place under the same category.

In addition to the significant jump, under the category of top news sources, RTM came in the fifth spot, edging out key local and foreign media titles such as New Straits Times, BBC News, CNN and Sin Chew Daily.

This can largely be credited to the ongoing efforts by the ministry to foster the transformation and evolution of the first broadcaster in Malaysia.

RTM’s transformation process is an effort that were implemented and executed in planned stages with the final expected outcome being a modern integrated broadcasting facility and infrastructure to boost the quality of its services.

In addition, this is also a testament to the fact that when the right talent and leadership are at helm, a positive outlook is certainly in the horizon for the entity and even for the overall Malaysian media industry.

Plans to reform the media fraternity have long been outstanding. This is a new age of transformation and media players are expected to experience changes that would augur a more independent and digitalised reporting in the future.

VP Christian, EX-research institute director.