A Press Ombudsman
Typically, a press ombudsman sets journalistic standards according to the needs of the society they cater for by arbitrating complains by the public. As a result, they are in the best position for promulgating and keeping media outlets in check against running stories that might detriment society as a whole.
As an ombudsman, their arbitration of public complaint cases has the potential to reduce the number of defamation cases levied against, as they seek to find mutual agreements between media and complainant.
Catching Up with Modernity
While press councils or ombudsmans historically deal with the press — think journalists and broadsheets. But we think that a media council should be broader, to cover all forms of content creation, inclusive of TV, radio or digital media.
With the proliferation of digital content, we don’t think that online and digital creators should have standards and be at least accountable to society for their content.
Media Councils Elsewhere
Media councils around the world work to various degrees of efficiency and efficacy. Some are viewed as toothless, and others don’t command the confidence of the public. There is a risk that in setting up a media council, it becomes yet another formality which quickly loses the intended spirit of its formation.
CIJ has put together a report detailing a few case studies so that we can avoid the pitfalls and learn the lessons — however applicable — of the implications of the formation of a media/press council.
Do We Really Need More Oversight in Malaysia?
Yes, we understand that the main method for the government to rein in the press is the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which the Home Minister has the power to outlaw a newspaper on command — and with the cases of The Edge and The Heat, its susceptible to abuse!
Therefore, CIJ believes that a press council is predicated on the abolishment of the PPPA in the interest of self-regulation. CIJ also believes that a major issue with the structure of a media council is method of appointment of its councillors: no politicians or political appointees, and respectable members of the public should be able to be part of the council.
Related: CIJ’s proposed constitution of the press council, spelling out the balance between editors and the public in the main council [PDF].