Many ignorant of independent media concept – By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

Malaysiakini | 04-Sept-2008 – News consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the media owners’ influence on news dissemination and hindrance to press freedom, an independent survey revealed today.

The survey, carried out by media watchdog Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) with opinion pollster Merdeka Centre, showed that 78 percent of those surveyed thought the rile of media owners affected media credibility.

The survey was conducted on 1,203 randomly selected respondents aged 21 and above.

“Thirty-nine percent identified the government and people or companies connected to the government as the owners of most media outlets.

“The survey also revealed that Malaysians were critically assessing the content of the local mainstream media, upon which the majority relied heavily as sources of information,” CIJ executive director V Gayathry told a press conference today.

The survey also revealed that only 35 percent of the respondents thought that the mainstream media were not reporting fairly.

Furthermore, only half of the respondents believed that the performance of the mainstream media according to six major indicators – ethical, variety of opinions included, variety of issues covered, objectivity, fairness and truthfulness- were met.

This, said Gayathry, reflected the poor confidence the public has on the credibility of the mainstream media due to its close affiliation with the government.

For democracy to function properly, media freedom advocates like CIJ and others have always called for a clear separation between media organisations and the state.

“And media organisations must also learn to create their own code of conduct that is based on just and fair reporting and not place the burden of media reform totally on the government,” added Gayathry.

Govt or media responsible for media freedom?

The CIJ executive director was referring to the survey’s finding that indicated the public’s mixed views on who can carry out media reforms.

In the survey, two-thirds had the impression that improving greater media independence was out of their hands while 35 percent felt that the government played the most important role.

“Such sentiment matched even those from the Malaysian Bar, when during the Walk for Press Freedom event in June, its Human Rights Committee responded to Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim by saying the state bears the primary burden of removing laws that have impinged freedom

“The statements were also introduced by itself as a retort to Zaid’s earlier statement that it was part of the press’ responsibility to conduct reforms within industry,” read the survey.

Nevertheless, 30 percent of the respondents thought that it was the public itself that had the greater role to ensure that media independence exist in the country.

Public lacks understanding on media independence

Also an issue is the blurry understanding of the public on the concept of media freedom.

Despite having more than half the respondents agreeing that the media needs more independence, about half still believed that the government has rights to control over media organisations.

Huge percentage of the respondents when asked why they thought the government should or should not have control over the media had no clue as to why they thought so.

“This is an issue and this is why organisations like CIJ and other media rights groups must come into the picture to educate the public on the issue,” stressed Gayathry.

The survey also revealed that the public has a very low recognition to the role of civil society groups when it comes to fighting for greater press freedom.

“This was particularly evident when the 2008 Memorandum on Media Freedom launched online on May 3 by three NGOs including CIJ only managed to garner 1,946 endorsees until now,” added the survey.

CIJ however was confident that the public was showing signs of progress when it came to inducing public awareness on the need for greater media freedom judging from the survey’s findings.

“Despite low level of recognition towards organizations working to improve media

freedom, the public was open to the idea of media independence. This further showed that the stigma of equating supporting media independence to danger did not exist.

“Hence, it is in the interest of the public and the nation for civil society organisations such as CIJ to continue its work to further educate the public about media independence,” concluded the survey. – Malaysiakini