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Editors want media laws reviewed first

PETALING JAYA, 11 Nov 2008: Editors and media stakeholders have called for the government to review media restrictive laws before setting up the proposed national media council.

Most of them feel that the proposed council would only end up as another regulatory body if laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and the Official Secrets Act (OSA) are not amended first. They also said the council should be independent and must not be governed by the ministry.

The issues were raised in a two-hour meeting with home ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof today, which was attended by about  40 editors, media stakeholders and representatives of the Malaysian Press Institute.

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director V Gayathry said almost everyone at the meeting agreed for the laws to first be reviewed or amended together with the setting up of the proposed council.

“I think it has to go in tandem because it will show the public that the government is serious about amending the laws,” she said in a phone interview today.

Most of the editors also emphasised the need for an independent self-regulatory body, she said.

“The public is not going to have confidence in the council if it is under the government, because they know that the government is already controlling the mainstream media,” said Gayathry.

A senior editor who did not want to be named for fear of government action said it would be a mockery if the council was placed under the ministry.

“If the national press council [had been] set up in 1973 (as was proposed then), it would have been good because the council would be self-regulatory. It was meant to pre-empt the government from putting in more laws to regulate the press.

“But the proposal was postponed for so many years and the government has meanwhile put in so many laws. So, to establish a media council now will seem like another level of control,” he told The Nut Graph.

He added that media stakeholders would probably support the setting up of the council if the government repealed the PPPA, or draft laws to repeal or amend the act. The PPPA gives the home minister the absolute discretion to grant, suspend or revoke the publishing permit of newspapers.

However, The Star’s group chief editor, Datuk Wong Chun Wai, said some of the editors kept an open mind about the media council and did not totally reject the proposal.

“But we want to look at the council’s functions and structure, and we feel that the laws must be reviewed first,” he said.

Wong said for example, part of the OSA and the requirement for the annual renewal of publishing permits must be reviewed.

He also agreed that the council should be independent so that it doesn’t create another layer of regulation for the media.

National Alliance of Bloggers pro-tem chairperson Ahirudin Atan said he was opposed to the council. “I don’t see how they can set up a single council to regulate print, broadcast and online media. I think the government is being overambitious.”

Ahirudin — who has a blog, Rocky’s Bru — said any council should be independent. “The government must not be involved, especially the home ministry which regulates the (press) licence.”

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