‘Antidote’ to the misinformation pandemic

  • The Star Says
  • Sunday, 03 May 2020

TODAY is World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) – a day dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of a free press. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

And as we observe WPFD, we are greeted with some good news for Malaysia.

Malaysia jumped up 22 places to be ranked 101st globally in the latest 2020 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Not only that, but Malaysia also registered the biggest increase among 180 countries.

The improvement is admirable, and should further drive us to ensure that we maintain the progress achieved so far, a progress realised by painstaking work and advocacy by fellow journalists, NGOs, political figures, pressure groups and, most importantly, members of the public.

This means to continue pushing for the rights of free press and speaking out on issues of public concern.

The theme for this year’s WPFD is Journalism Without Fear or Favour, and with the media’s important role as a reliable source of true and accurate information, it is more important than ever.

We have not even reached the mid-point of the year, but 2020 has given us full of surprises and new challenges for the media fraternity.

These unusual times have called to attention the growing importance of a fair and impartial media during situations of crisis and confusion amid the global spread of Covid-19.

For one, while the movement control order (MCO) is a necessary step to save precious lives, it nevertheless brought with it economic difficulties felt by nearly all Malaysians.

All these concerns and more – welfare, healthcare, employment, food security, financial stability and hopes for the future – were raised with the help of journalists who work daily on the front lines too to highlight the most pressing concerns and difficulties felt by the rakyat during this health crisis.

But the media worldwide is also grappling with various crises on multiple fronts – now exacerbated by Covid-19. The way media works has changed; we too must adapt to life in the new normal – to continue reporting while protecting the lives of journalists who venture out every day to work during the global pandemic.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his WPFD message, the media plays a crucial role in helping people everywhere make informed decisions.

“As the pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”

What is next for Malaysia’s fight for press freedom?

The time has come to re-evaluate legislations that can be used to suppress journalists, and create an encouraging environment for press freedom to thrive.We have done well, but the fight for a fairer, better Malaysian press must continue.

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