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Feb 25, 2008

Media must be independent in reporting the elections


THE Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Writers' Alliance for Independence (WAMI) note with concern developments that will create an unfair environment for media coverage that would certainly benefit the incumbent candidates and caretaker government.

Subtle as it may be for the members of the public, media professionals should recognize them immediately as compromising fair access to media, which is a very important pre-requisite for voters to make informed decisions.

Two developments in the recent week warrant alert. A media centre was opened since 19 February at the compound of the outgoing Kedah Chief Minister, Mahadzir Khalid in Alor Star.

The centre provides for journalists desktop PCs, WIFI connection, a fax machine, meeting rooms and even meals three times a day.

When contacted, the officer in charge of the centre Zahari Murad said the purpose of the centre was to make it convenient for journalists covering Barisan Nasional (BN) functions as they could use the facilities to file their stories immediately after the functions. But a source said journalists can come to the centre anytime within the opening hours.

This so-called convenient arrangement only raises doubts over the independence of the media personnel who are based at this media centre. We hope that the editors will use their wise judgement and ensure that all their reporters operate from their own offices.

We take note also similar concerns raised by Terence Fernandez in his 19 February column (Down to Earth) that the election season is a time when individuals try to offer goodies to journalists.

We reiterate that journalists should abide by their ethical codes to protect their integrity and credibility. We call upon journalists who have been approached by individuals to expose any attempts to bribe the media or to compromise the ethical standards in the newsrooms.

The second development concerns the access of all contesting parties to political advertisement in the media. On 20 February, Sabah's Daily Express, New Sabah Times and The Borneo Post reportedly started carrying advertisements for the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), a component party of BN.

CIJ and WAMI urge the media to fulfill its role in a fair manner and we encourage non-BN parties and candidates to take advantage of the willingness of the media for their publicity.

We are also concerned about the recent warning by the outgoing Youth and Sport Minister Azalina Othman concerning bloggers and the use of the Internet technology by non-BN parties.

We wish to remind Azalina that non-BN parties and candidates have been given unfair coverage by the mainstream media and especially the state media, which should provide space to all candidates. As such, the opposition candidates need to exploit any resources they have for the campaigns to explain to voters their positions, issues and pledges.

CIJ and WAMI urge the media to practice fairness at all times, especially during elections. Access to the mainstream media is not the monopoly of the BN, as such, we urge the caretaker government to respect the democratic rights of all Malaysians in getting and disseminating information.

CIJ and WAMI are monitoring elections coverage together with Charter2000-Aliran and a group of citizen volunteers.

Executive Director, CIJ


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