Plans afoot to ensure fair media coverage during elections

Polling station

Efforts are being made to ensure fair media coverage at the next general election.

The Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) is gathering information and speaking to stakeholders as the nation does not have proper guidelines or laws pertaining the do’s and don’ts on media coverage during an election period.

Committee chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said the findings will be compiled and submitted to the prime minster by August next year.

“Political parties and candidates have claimed they do not get enough air time or space in the electronic media. We have also heard of media members being alienated or abused during the campaigning period.

“The aim is to safeguard the interests of all parties and to ensure voters get the right information for them to make the right decision.”

Abdul Rashid said the plan was to form a special body or for the Election Commission to monitor and oversee media coverage and social media postings the moment Parliament is dissolved and right up to polling day.

“For example, political parties and their supporters should be allowed to place advertisements in any media of their choice but must strictly adhere to the regulations … not racist in nature, no slander or mocking other parties. If they are unable to do so, or feel they are not being given enough space, then they can complain to the committee.

“Regulations and code of ethics … it looks good on paper but may not be practised widely. If we have laws, then we can enforce through penalties. The committee should rightfully be represented by people or organisations within the media industry,” he added.

Many countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, have rules governing media coverage during elections.

Abdul Rashid acknowledged much study is needed to ensure the matter is fool-proof and will benefit voters. He was also mindful of the operations, adding it was almost impossible to monitor everything that is posted in today’s digital era.

“The special body should rightfully monitor and be open to receiving complaints.”

“We will be speaking to the relevant government agencies, including the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission, the Home Ministry, and media organisations on how best we can tackle infringements in the digital world.

“I’ve suggested a cooling period just before voters hit the polling stations. Will this mean no coverage of the elections during the said period?”

He admitted many questions would arise regarding the effectiveness of the committee but hopes to clear the air by speaking to as many industry players and stakeholders as possible.

“The media plays an important role in ensuring free and fair elections. This is just the beginning and we hope that once we fine-tune the mechanics, it will be beneficial to all,” he added.

Main image: H. Berbar / HBL Network