Media council should come before journalists' code of ethics, says Lawyers for Liberty

PETALING JAYA: The media has been calling for some time for the formation of an independent Malaysian Media Council to limit government interference in the media and move towards self-regulation, says human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).

"It is surprising and inappropriate then for the government to launch a supposedly improved code of ethics for journalism before the council has been formally instituted," said LFL director Zaid Malek.

"Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil has also confirmed that the Information Department is authorised to rely on the code of ethics to cancel media accreditation cards," he said, adding that the code of ethics for journalists was a bid to control the media and curtail freedom of speech.

"This cannot be perceived as anything else but a standing threat to the press," he said in a statement on Wednesday (Feb 21).

"It (the code of ethics) is yet another form of control the government exerts over the media, in addition to draconian laws still in existence like the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

"This code of ethics simply is a (roundabout) way of reviving the Anti-Fake News law, couched in terms of 'journalistic ethics', where the credibility of any news item and its sources will be determined by the government.

ALSO READ: Malaysian Media Council Bill’s draft almost complete

"How can there be a free and independent media when the government gets to decide on what is 'ethical' reporting?" he asked.

Zaid said Fahmi’s comment that Malaysia’s media landscape is "unique" and not necessarily subject to standards set by Western media was unacceptable.

"It implies that freedom of the press is not wholly applicable in Malaysia.

"This is nonsensical as freedom of the press is guaranteed under Article 10 of our Federal Constitution.

"Let us also not forget that Pakatan Harapan ministers like Fahmi strongly supported press freedom against government interference when they were in the opposition," he added.

He urged the government to set up the media council and not extend its reach to curb ordinary citizens who discuss current events, as this would be a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of expression.

"We cannot ignore the greatest irony and betrayal should Pakatan, whose political success can be largely attributed to extensive media coverage and guerilla journalism on the 1MDB scandal, now seek to solidify government control over the press and be the arbiter of what can be reported in the news or discussed by the public online.

"The government must immediately move towards the establishment of the media council so that the industry itself will regulate journalistic ethics and the credibility of the news," he said.

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