Seeking Legitimation in Political Uncertainties: Reforming the Media
Asia in Transition
The media in Malaysia have long been controlled by censorship laws, and media bias has long been identified as a key hindrance to progressive discussion in the public sphere, as the government traditionally controls the media. The former Pakatan Harapan (PH) government made media reform promises in their election manifesto, which covered the repeal of laws deemed oppressive and a threat to free speech, and importantly, the support for self-regulation mechanisms through a media council. The Malaysian Media Council (MMC) was formed in December 2019 with 17 pro-tem committee members. Yet, the future of media reform is uncertain because systemic barriers remain. Besides the continued existence of censorship laws, some media organisations retain patronage by political parties and different sectors of society have distinct expectations of policy outcomes. Moreover, the fate of media reform is unclear after the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government came to power in late February 2020. This chapter employs a content analysis of press releases and news articles, supplemented by participant observation, to explore the legitimation of media reform. It first provides an overview of progress on media reform, and then analyses the challenges and barriers faced by members of the MMC and activists who fight for media reform. This chapter suggests that Malaysia is expected to continue to witness policies that limit media freedom rather than those that pursue media reform.
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