Malaysia Improves In Press Freedom Index

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Former Bernama CEO Warns Journalism Under Digital Siege

KUALA LUMPUR – Media practitioners need to adapt to changes led by demands of the internet revolution in the era of digitalisation, reminds the former Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) chief executive officer Yong Soo Heong.

Speaking as a panelist on Bernama TV: The Brief on Thursday (05 May) in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day, Yong said digitalisation has also caused consumers to change their habits of getting the latest news.

“As such, media practitioners need to adapt to these changes and find ways to tackle the onslaught of the digital siege,” he added.

Nonetheless, Yong, who was also former Bernama editor-in-chief said it would take a while to determine the exact changes influenced by digitalisation in the media industry.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders, also known by its French acronym RSF, says Malaysia has moved up six spots in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, coming in at 113th place.

According to the report, Malaysia is ranked the highest in South-East Asia, ahead of Thailand (115), Indonesia (117), Singapore (139), Cambodia (142), Brunei (144), Philippines (147), Laos (161), Vietnam (174), and Myanmar (176).

The report noted that there is political pressure to deter the media in Malaysia from tackling taboo subjects or criticising politicians and officials, leading to generalised self-censorship on certain topics.

It added that Malaysian journalists are rarely the target of physical attacks, but some are subjected to judicial harassment and smear campaigns.

In his panel appearance, Yong stressed that those involved in the local news media industry have to be very careful in what they report and strive to convey messages from any parties in the most accurate manner possible to ensure that Malaysia’s media ranking was not negatively influenced.

“It isn’t only reporters and editors of news organisations; it’s also about how government agencies and other relevant organisations respond to various crises because feedback affects ranking as well,” Yong added.

He also reminded media practitioners not to be “bodoh sombong”, as one was generally not an expert in any field or topic.

“If we make mistakes, admit it and move on. Most of the time, it’s important to be humble and ask questions, don’t claim we know everything because we’re not experts,” he said.

Asked if the scale of freedom of speech was viewed from the western media’s perspective, Yong opined that there was no such a thing as absolute freedom.

He further explained that in order to push the boundaries of media freedom, any media practitioner must be truthful in their reporting and create news in the best possible manner.

“Freedom comes in when society becomes more mature. As such, all stakeholders have to be responsible,” he said.

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