The Malaysian population consists of three main ethnic groups – the Bumiputeras (including Malays), Chinese and Indians. Given the ethnic make-up of Malaysian society, any attempt to analyze the role of the media cannot avoid addressing questions concerning ethnic identities and national unity. The Malaysian mainstream media are traditionally divided along languages spoken by different ethnic groups and tend to voice the aspirations, hopes and fears of the particular ethnic group which they represent. Over the past few decades the media have witnessed technological and financial progress as in the rest of Asia through cable and satellite systems. Today the country boasts of a flourishing media industry consisting of a newspaper industry representing vernacular languages of the various ethnic groups.
Apart from the varied ethnic identities of the population, the press system is also affected by other factors such as government policy, economic development and the political and the legal systems. The media are strongly regulated and controlled by the state and perceived as an instrument of national, political and cultural development. Another important feature of the Malaysian media landscape is the fact that the major media outlets of the country are owned by a handful of political parties. The opposition often ends up with very little media space, the impact of which is felt during elections. In recent years the Internet has emerged as a crucial platform of voices of dissent and critical discourse of domestic socio-political issues that is said to have played a role in the election of 2008 where the ruling party lost major share of seats.
Media Accountability Systems
Activism for democratic media
Malaysia is yet to witness internationally recognised media accountability systems such as an independent press council though the country has witnessed activism in the demand of the democratisation of the media sector. This has been spearheaded by non government and non profit journalist associations such as National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJM) and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ). Media activists and journalists noted that legal reform is required to create a socio-political structure that can accommodate independent media accountability systems. At present laws like the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA) and Sedition Act (SA) threaten freedom of speech of the press, through its milieu of control mechanisms. In the face of protests against these laws, the government continues to justify them for the protection of security and social harmony in a multi-ethnic country. The CIJ observes that the government has been open to the idea of creating statutory provision for setting up a press council. However, journalist associations and civil society groups are quick to note the need to prevent state interference because this would create a press council which is ineffective in promoting press freedom and self-regulation in the current regulatory framework. The advocacy for press council is not recent, during a national political crisis in 1999, journalists had in fact drafted guidelines for setting up a press council and also developed a code of ethics. Media activists stressed the need of self-regulation and ethics in the profession.Back to top