Tighter media control by next year?

Online newspaper The Malaysian Insider predicts that the Malaysian media would face more curbs when Najib Razak takes over the reins of government from Abdullah Badawi early next year.

It won’t be a surprise if and when such a dismal change were to happen given the existing legal and political constraints within which the media operate, and also the present structure of the media industry as a whole.

Put another way, the available democratic space that the mainstream media enjoy varies from time to time as it is, to a large extent, subject to the discretion of the powers-that-be. In a sense, the status of media freedom is very much dependent on personality, not democratic institutions. 

A further control of the media predictably would mean, among other things, more editorial space being allocated to the ruling party and its leaders, and legitimate criticisms against these leaders would be further discouraged.

The media may resort to more sensationalist reporting of the trivial and bizarre, while certain sections of the media industry would concentrate more on business and financial news and analyses to the point of pushing aside or downplaying stories of impoverished and marginalised communities, for instance. Not that these underprivileged communities have not already been pushed aside by much of the media.

There would, of course, be a lot more ‘entertainment’ in the media.

Furthermore, the implications of this heightened curb on the mainstream media could be substantially felt in Malaysia’s cyberspace in terms of the authorities’ sustained monitoring of, and more attempts to control, the use of the Internet. This is especially so when, as alluded to in the Insider story, public grievances and criticisms are expected to spike in light of the world recession biting hard into the national economy by early next year.

So if the Insider‘s prediction turns out to be true, we’re in for a big spin in more ways than one.

Here’s an extract of the Insider report:


DEC 17 – One of the most noticeable changes when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak becomes Prime Minister in March could be tighter control from Putrajaya on the media and on the decision-making process.

And if this happens, the loudest cheers for Najib will be from his Cabinet colleagues, senior Umno politicians and civil servants.

One constant during weekly Cabinet meetings since the March 8 general elections has been griping about the choice of articles and tone of coverage in several mainstream newspapers. Ironically, the sharpest criticisms have been reserved for papers owned by Barisan Nasional political parties.

The dominant view among Ministers and senior Umno politicians is that while Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should be lauded for giving the media some space, they believe that the perimeters were not marked out clearly enough.

As a result, newspapers seem to be critical of any policies announced by the government; and more interested in focusing on crime and negative news, these critics allege.

Part of this griping is prompted by frustration of having to share space with a resurgent Opposition and part with their inability to set the agenda for news outlets even in their own stable. A government official, familiar with discussions on the media, told The Malaysian Insider: “This is a very critical time for the country. The global economy is in a really bad state and there will pain for Malaysians. The government needs everyone to be on the same team and push for the same cause.

“Instead we are seeing some newspapers being more interested in adopting a populist approach.”

A Cabinet Minister confirmed with the Malaysian Insider that there has been some discussion about a few newspapers, adding that there seems to be a trend to criticize government initiatives even without understanding it and explaining it to the public.

“Pak Lah may have meant well but we would like a less messy media scene. Some issues should be out of bounds and the media must respect the boundaries, ” he said, noting that combustible issues such as race relations and Malay rights must be tackled with caution and preferably not discussed openly.

If his views sound familiar, it is because they echo those of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

While he and many others in Cabinet do not envisage a complete return to the days of Mahathirism, they believe there is merit in ruling Malaysia with a firmer and stronger hand. And with a cache of fear.

2 Responses to “Tighter media control by next year?”

  1. 1 amoker 18 December 2008 at 10:20 am

    Yeah, he wants to follow Dr M. Can Najib be his own man?

  2. 2 Patricia 18 December 2008 at 7:28 pm

    We are currently in ‘strangle mode’. What would the next level of control be, then, pray tell?!


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