PRESS STATEMENT (3 May 2017): Malaysians need access to free and fair media

On World Press Freedom Day today, BERSIH 2.0 would like to remind all Malaysians of the need to speak up for and defend this important freedom without which we would not be able to hold the powerful to account, expose corruption and resolve social issues.
Media freedom is not the freedom to report lies, as frequently alleged by certain critics with vested interests against it. Media freedom is the freedom of journalists to do their job well by upholding the principles and practice of good journalism.(1)
Specifically, it is the freedom of journalists to:
• fulfil their first obligation, which is to the truth, and their first loyalty, which is to the citizen
• adhere to a discipline of verification, which requires freedom of expression and information
• maintain an independence from those they cover
• serve as an independent monitor of power
• provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
• strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant
• keep the news comprehensive and proportional
• exercise their personal conscience.
However, the realities of ownership, control and socialisation in Malaysia have turned the whole notion of media freedom on its head, and media’s obligation is instead to serve the ruling power, which continues to own the major media conglomerates either directly or indirectly.
This obligation, deemed an act of loyalty, is filtered down to the ground, preventing journalists and editors from providing balanced coverage and forcing them to exercise self-censorship or risk losing their job and, increasingly, even their safety.
Yet despite facing such difficult challenges, a few media and journalists have continued to report the truth and given fair and balanced coverage to issues. To these courageous members of the Fourth Estate, BERSIH 2.0 expresses our thanks and salute them for their fortitude.
With the fourteenth general election expected soon, it is also timely for BERSIH 2.0 to remind all of the media’s crucial role during elections and our public demand for free and fair access to the media. The media must give fair information regarding political parties, their policies and candidates, so that voters may be able to form an informed choice of who they want as their government. The public should demand of media organisations that space be given to all political parties, and not only the ruling party, to air their views and present their manifestos so as to enable voters to gain first-hand information on what the candidates will fight for. Also vital is the media’s watchdog role in highlighting what is and is not acceptable behaviour by all stakeholders.
The people must thus amplify BERSIH 2.0’s demand for free and fair access to the media, which we can only attain by demanding media freedom. For like all institutions acting in the public interest, the media too need public support.
Issued by:
BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee
(1) Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel (2001), The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.