Malaysia's media landscape has changed, forum hears

Raevathi Supramaniam

Readers no longer desire a compliant media, says MalaysiaKini CEO and co-founder Premesh Chandran. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 2, 2021.

THE media landscape has changed over the course of the last decade with more people pushing for hard-hitting content rather than reading news that panders to the government of the day, MalaysiaKini CEO and co-founder Premesh Chandran said today.

Speaking at a forum organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism entitled “Malaysian Press in distress: How independent journalists keep the powers in check”, Premesh said that while the government still cracks down on independent online portals, it has moved past the days where these stories don’t ever see the light of day.

“Today we live in a vastly different world. We have so much information. So many people are publishing content like independent media,” he said in the online forum held via Zoom.

“The media is going to be asking questions. If it’s not the media, it’s a blogger or someone else. (It’s) the way people think, the way we will demand information.”

He said the younger generation and women have also been speaking up against things that are not right, noting that this was not something that happened in the past.

“Schoolgirls speaking up about sexist jokes by teachers. It would have been impossible 20 years ago. Very often it is actually women, not even men, picking up on so many even issues.

“It has been a huge change. And I think eventually the law will follow but definitely the whole culture and expectations in terms of media have evolved tremendously.”

Premesh said a big reason why there has been a shift in the media landscape is also due to the people pushing back and reading aggressive online media and not being subservient to government mouthpieces.

He said readers no longer desire a compliant media, and they can tell the difference.

Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown, who was also a participant in the forum, said that while the media landscape may have shifted, she is of the opinion that the entire industry is very nervous especially in light of the laws in the country which leave journalists vulnerable.

“I, as an outside reader, see a nervousness now in the way that the press in Malaysia covers events, and I know it absolutely began with the overthrow of the Pakatan Harapan government.

“Under PH, we were getting harangued daily by a liberated and confident media and the day they (PH) were kicked out, Muhyiddin Yassin closed down press conferences and just avoided them,” she said.

She said there was also self-censorship on the part of the media in terms of their news coverage that didn’t exist during PH’s rule.

Rewcastle Brown said that it is also high time Malaysia get rid of laws  inherited from the British legal system that are being used as “instruments of intimidation”.

“A lot of the things that you’ve inherited, in the last 100 years we’ve got rid of them as our democracies have progressed.

“We’ve got rid of them because you know the more democratic you become, the more obvious that these laws are unnecessary, outdated and oppressive and (they are) in conflict with human rights and agreements now on what is acceptable.

“I think it’s really a question of going through and getting rid of outdated laws, getting rid of that appalling fake news law from being used as a vicious weapon.”

Malaysia, she said, has also not signed on to global charters that relate to freedom of expression.

Speaking of her own experience, she said the only reason she has been free of the clutches of the Malaysian legal system is because she resides in the United Kingdom.

“I’m being investigated by the Malaysian authorities for sedition and (also)  face fake news accusations. If I am in KL, I’d be in hot water.

“And obviously, I’m well protected. Such tactics are regarded with ridicule, horror and disgust by the government here (UK).”

In September, the Kuala Terengganu magistrate’s court issued an arrest warrant for Rewcastle Brown for failure to turn up in court to face a charge of defaming the Sultanah of Terengganu, Sultanah Nur Zahirah. – November 2, 2021.

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