Report: Media in Malaysia concerned over job security and personal safety amid Covid-19 outbreak

Last year, Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan faced contempt of court charges over comments published on their websites criticising the judiciary. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Last year, Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan faced contempt of court charges over comments published on their websites criticising the judiciary. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 — Media practitioners in Malaysia are increasingly concerned about their personal safety and job security as the global pandemic rages on, according to the Malaysia Media Report 2020.

That, coupled with “pressure” from the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration, adds to the overall stress of those in media.

In the report, those in media voiced that press freedom and overall conditions in the industry had worsened in 2020, including rising concerns over impacted wages, harassment and attacks against journalists.

“Journalists agreed that the media situation had worsened to some degree in Malaysia over 2020, with economic impact, state or political actors and government policy or legislation being the main reasons for the state of play.

“A culture of impunity regarding attacks against journalists was rampant, with the government and political leadership apparently enabling this culture of impunity and lacking political will to protect journalists,” said the report. 

“Reporters said that ‘pressure’ from the ruling coalition played a role in security issues, while employers were ineffective in handling security and safety issues, including legal issues and individual threats. 

“Amidst these woes, the Covid-19 pandemic took its toll on Malaysian press with restrictions on reporting, salary woes and health and safety concerns,’’ said the report.

The report was by the National Union of Journalists in collaboration with International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific Region where they had gauged press freedom in the country in 2020.

The report also pointed out the PN administration’s lack of transparency in how it combated Covid-19.

Journalists cited the need for better access and transparency to government information and then there were complaints that many ministers only invited official media to cover press conferences.

“The media only can do coverage through live streaming from TV or Facebook, [leading to a] lack of interaction with the ministers.’’

Media employers failed to address security concerns

The report also included a survey conducted by the NUJ on 240 media personnel here on their working conditions, where a whopping 83.8 per cent of respondents rated their employers as “extremely bad” in handling security and safety issues, including legal issues and individual threats.

The survey also found that nearly 54 per cent of respondents said their work had caused them security concerns, with key threats being targeted attacks for their work (8.3 per cent), salary concerns amid the pandemic (5.8 per cent, with 45.4 per cent of respondents saying their salaries had been impacted) and online harassment (5.4 per cent).

A majority of the respondents agree there is a culture of impunity regarding attacks against journalists, with 56.3 per cent describing it as a moderate issue and 30.8 per cent describing it as serious.

In this case, the government and political leadership were the main factors listed as enabling this culture of impunity as 75.3 per cent of respondents indicated that the government had not put in sufficient effort to protect journalists in 2020.

The respondents rated the government as either neutral or in need of improvement, with 34.1 per cent of respondents pointing the finger at legislation and other regulations as the cause while 25.4 per cent said that “pressure” from the ruling party also played a key role.

Media freedom likely to be stifled with worsening Covid-19 situation

Last year, Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan faced contempt of court charges over comments published on their websites criticising the judiciary.

Then there was the time police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) raided the local office of Al Jazeera as part of their investigations into the controversial documentary titled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.

The report also stated that media freedom will continue to be stifled as the government is likely to use the pandemic as a pretext to control access to information.

“With Covid-19 numbers also on the rise and people asked to shelter in place to varying degrees, it is also to be expected that journalism will be stifled, in terms of both access and issues that can be covered or openly discussed. 

“The pandemic will be used as a pretext for future limitations on access for journalists, with physical distancing one of the more popular reasons provided for exclusionary practices.

“The deterioration of journalism in Malaysia will be further compounded by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with salaries diminishing and closures imminent,’’ said the report.

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