Media council not just for industry but to protect public interest

Datuk Ahirudin Attan

The revelation of an ex-telco chief executive officer who allegedly molested his child was plastered on the front page of a leading daily – and it got tongues wagging.

And that article was used as a point of reference by National Press Club of Malaysia (NPC) president Datuk Ahirudin Attan in explaining the necessity to set up the Malaysian Media Council (MMC).

“The ex-telco CEO has come out and challenged the newspaper’s account on his Facebook (page). A lot of people who were accusing him are now accusing the newspaper of infringing the children’s privacy. Children are protected by the Child Act,” Ahirudin said.

“Without the MMC, the individual will have to stand up to the newspaper. That’s a big newspaper with an army of lawyers. (When a media council is set up) it will have to step in and decide if there is an infringement in the code of conduct (by the journalists) or the relevant laws and decide to take action against the newspaper. Therefore, the council also functions to protect the interest of society.”

Ahirudin said this on Bernama News Channel on Wednesday.

He added one of the roles of a media council is to attend to public complaints.

“In the UK, the (media) council has transformed into a public complaints commission and they deal with 25,000 complaints a year, against newspapers and television stations.”

Ahirudin, popularly known as Rocky Bru, stressed the idea of the MMC is to uphold media freedom and operate freely.

“To have the council, we need the commitment from the big mainstream media. We need The Star, The Edge and Media Prima.

“We have various organisations now, the Malaysian Press Institute, NPC, the National Union of Journalists. We are mostly looking at our own interests. This council is an opportunity to bring everyone together and discuss issues like press freedom, self-regulation, public complaints and professionalism.”

He questioned why the government has yet to repeal the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA), calling it archaic.

“The demand from the journalists that this Act be repealed is not excessive. The government has repealed the Internal Security Act (ISA) and that’s the mother of all draconian laws. Repeal it (PPPA). It’s quite archaic anyway.”

He said the council will serve as a powerful platform to help the government regulate the fraternity.

“I think we shouldn’t use the (repealing) of the Act to delay the process (of setting up MMC).”

He said media councils around the world operate on moral suasion and that no punitive action be meted out against newspapers or journalists.

“The council will work on a code of ethics or code of conduct and it’s  what journalists will have to abide by. If you don’t adhere to the code of conduct, there will be fines or a retraction, or apology required or even pressure on newspaper companies to sack editors or journalists. But that’s the practice in other countries. These are things we need to discuss and decide.”

On suggestions that MMC should be led by someone outside the fraternity, Ahirudin said: “The media council should be led by a journalist, retired or a laureate.”