THE wheels of the long proposed Malaysian Media Council (MMC) have finally been set in motion. After more than four decades of debating the merits of having such a body, how it should be run, what legal and punitive parameters it should possess or even what should be in place before it sees the light of day, the crux of the matter is that at least something concrete has been done to get things moving.
For the proposal to have escalated to this stage, it’s noteworthy that Gobind Singh Deo, the communications and multimedia minister, and Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser, have been instrumental in providing the right impetus.
They’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that it’s not worth keeping ideas in our heads but to simply get on with the task.
Setting up the MMC’s pro tem committee was the best thing to have happened because the beginning is often the half of every action. Without a beginning, we won’t be able to see the fruits of our labour.
Some detractors have thrown cold water on the initial efforts by the government to get the media council going. They argued that some countries don’t even have media councils and asked why Malaysia should have one.
The media council is not only about monitoring journalistic transgressions, taking punitive action or providing arbitration. It’s also about speaking for the local media with one voice besides helping to shore up journalism standards where other bodies may have been found wanting.
It’s really about having a body to breathe fresh air or fire into an industry that may have lost its sense of direction or vigour.
It’s also high time that the Malaysian public was given information that’s well-researched and fact checked against the proliferation of fake news by people with ill intent.
Other wet blankets had lamented that members of the pro tem committee were not representative of the local media landscape or that some experienced old hands or academics, who had spent years breathing media laws in and out, had somehow missed the boat.
All is not lost. The boat can still return to shore to rope them into various capacities in the subcommittees. It’s not as if those in the initial list are like the halo-ed knights of the roundtable with life-long tenures.
Other equally accomplished and proficient personalities may come in later as the pro tem or steering committee, as some have put it, has been enlarged since the initial meeting in Putrajaya.
After all, pro tem comes from the Latin phrase pro tempore, which means “for the time being” in English!
So, for the time being, those who’ve been roped in actually have a heavy burden on them.
Premesh Chandran, the pro tem committee chairman, describes the initial discussions of the committee members after the Lunar New Year as robust.
They had deliberated on the scope of the proposed council, laws that would need to be abolished or amended for it to work effectively and how to incorporate interests of various stakeholders, including the media industry, journalists, government and the public.
Differing perspectives among the stakeholders were acknowledged while affirming that all parties are in favour of an independent, responsible and professional media industry.
For a start, the various sub-committees have been evaluating issues like code of conduct, grievance procedures, legal reforms, membership and structure, and proposed budgets and the secretariat set-up. Lots of areas have to be fine-tuned with various authorities and in particular, the Attorney-General’s Chambers before a proper bill can be drawn up at least by the end of the year.
So, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Having come this far, it’s pertinent to remember what Henry Ford, the man who revolutionised mass car production, said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
The writer is a former chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of Bernama