Malaysia Prepares a Road Map for Self-regulation of the Media

What is a media council, who sits on the council, how are the members chosen, what powers does a media council have? These and more questions were discussed in great detail at the two-day National Consultation for a Malaysian Media Council in Kuala Lumpur from 3-5 March.
After the historic general election in May 2018, the Malaysian media community and civil society are feeling a wave of optimism in strengthening the independence and professionalism of the journalism in the country. Buoyed by the public commitments from the new government to ensure freedom of the press is respected and strengthened in the ‘new’ Malaysia, a series of renewed activities are taking place to better aligned Malaysia to international standards.
A wide range of topics were discussed including the content of the code of ethics, composition and structure of the media council, whether the proposed media council should be statutory vs. fully voluntary, funding mechanism, as well as what are the specific powers that media council holds including what if they can met out punitive measures or limited to reprimands.
UNESCO was invited to the consultation as expert on the workings of media councils. UNESCO has long been involved in assistance of self-regulatory mechanisms around the world. In Southeast Asia, UNESCO supported the media councils in Timor-Leste and Myanmar. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and the Indonesian Press Council were also invited to share their experience on self-regulation of the media.
The idea of creating a media council in Malaysia had been mooted sporadically over the past couple of decades. However, with nearly a dozen existing laws that restrict freedom of the press, a meaningful independent media council never materialized. However, with the new freer political landscape and the promises of the current government to repeal and review these laws, the media community is attempting to again to establish a truly independent media council.
The current consultation organized by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) is the latest of such inclusive consultative efforts that involves the media community, civil societies, academia, and government agencies in Malaysia. The process is being guided by the principles of “accountability” and “transparency”.
At the end of the two-day consultation, participants proposed a road map to establish an independent media council to be produced and shared to the wider community by the end of April 2019.