Press freedom? What’s that? – By Shannon Teoh

The Malaysian Insider | PETALING JAYA, 04-Sept-2008,  — A survey found that while 87 per cent of Malaysians want greater media independence, the public is unclear on what it actually means.

Commissioned by the Centre for Independent Journalism and conducted by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, it found that a majority of respondents polled did not understand the concept of “media independence”.

This was evident as 54 per cent claimed they did not understand the concept of “media as a watchdog”. While 60 per cent felt that public opinion and peer-review would be better methods of regulating media than the use of laws, 77 per cent were unable to name laws that govern the Malaysian media.

The law that was cited the most, at 8 per cent, was the Internal Security Act, although CIJ executive director V. Gayathry stated that the media watchdog have tracked less than five journalists who have ever been detained under the Act.

The survey also found that 70 per cent of the 1,203 respondents of voting age polled believe that when a news source is perceived to be pro-government or pro-opposition, its credibility is affected.

“There is no doubt that the media continues to be an important provider of information to the public,” said Merdeka Centre programmes director Ibrahim Suffian at a press conference this morning.

“But people want to hear what they want to hear. We found during the elections that 90 per cent relied on the mainstream media but in the end BN only received 52 to 53 per cent of the popular vote,” he said, referring to 70 per cent of respondents who said that the mainstream media was slanted towards the ruling coalition and that those who rated the truthfulness, fairness, objectivity and ethics of the mainstream media favourably were in the minority.

This corresponded with the fact that over half believe that the government owns most media outlets with another 15 per cent identifying a government connection to media owners.

“I may buy your paper but I don’t buy into it,” Gayathry said of the public’s attitude towards the mainstream media.

Censorship in the media also found disapproval except for vulgarities and obscenity, where 84 per cent wanted these things to be censored and where racial conflicts were concerned with only 41 per cent not wanting it being censored.

Among the top changes that respondents wanted to see was a more critical media (26 per cent), a complaint mechanism on the media (23 per cent) and ease for the public to set up media outlets (19 per cent). However, only 30 per cent of those polled said the public played the most important role in improving media independence, with 35 per cent laying the responsibility on the government. – The Malaysian Insider

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