There was a two-hour meeting at the Communications and Multimedia Ministry yesterday – one that was highly anticipated by the media fraternity.
It involved the setting up of a Media Council which has been a conversation among veteran journalists and editors for decades.
Many of them had, in some way or another, provided input to what it should be.
References were made to similar establishments abroad, like in the UK and India, while papers were presented to stakeholders over the years. Even Mohd Safar Hasim and Ahmad Murad Merican shared their views in the article ‘The Formation of a Media Council: The Experience of Malaysia’ published in the Malaysian Journal of Communication in 2002.
A handful of past ministers showed interest in the setting up of the Council but it was just lip-service.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo, since assuming office last year, has repeatedly highlighted the need to set up the Council. Perhaps being married to former journo Sangeeta Kaur Sidhu has given him an insight on why it is vital.
The Council is not just for the media. It draws up the Code of Practice to ensure responsible reporting while ensuring freedom of the Press is not infringed. There are councils abroad, including the UK, that investigate complaints by the public about editorial content.
This is important to ensure the professional standards of journalists are maintained en route to generating trust in the news presented.
As such, a glimmer of hope was seen in yesterday’s meeting at Putrajaya that involved 12 press groups, Gobind, Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Media and Communications Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, academicians and representatives from the ministry and Attorney-General Chambers.
Gobind described the two-hour meeting as a “good discussion” and expressed hope the council will be set up by year-end by an Act of Parliament.
More importantly, he agreed to the setting up of a pro-tem committee which will show determination from the industry players.
The main take away from the meeting is that most of the groups, armed with their own views and plans, shared common ground. That was a good start for an industry which seems to have lost its spirit of brotherhood.
There were some who left the meeting feeling sceptical over Gobind’s year-end target. After all, talk of setting up the council has been on-going for over 30 years.
This is where a united fraternity can make a difference – newsmen that view the setting up of the Council as a national effort representing and overseeing all media outlets regardless of location and language.
A united front is important given the challenges in newsrooms today.
The number of journalists is shrinking, higher learning institutions are shutting down media-related studies due to poor response while the standards of professionalism – evident through the news being churned out – is being debated almost daily.
Plagiarism is a vulgar word but many have found a way around it by calling it “aggregating”. The elders also share tales of “fake news” being around since typewriting days.
The mechanics of the council must be quickly determined, accompanied by its roles and functions.
Gobind has set the pace and will surely want to (hopefully) be remembered as the man who made the council a reality.
With an ‘enthusiastic’ minister, the ball is now in the media fraternity’s court to ensure this decades-long dream finally becomes a reality.