The Muslim American Election Observers Committee says media bias impedes the growth of democracy.
SUBANG JAYA: Malaysia’s government-controlled mainstream media came under international criticism today for “reflecting only one viewpoint” and thereby impeding the growth of democracy.
Also under fire from the Muslim American Election Observers Committee is the Election Commission (EC) for ignoring the media’s bias despite its having the legal muscle to ensure fairness.
“If I had to pick the biggest concern [about Malaysia’s electoral process], I would say the media here seems to be totally reflective of one viewpoint,” said Inayat Malik, a member of the committee.
“I really haven’t looked into the background or reasons, but reading the newspapers here, it becomes very clear that there is little projection of diverse viewpoints,” he told a press conference here.
Malik is one of three delegates from the organisation who are on a fact-finding mission in Malaysia in the run up to the 13th general election, which must be held by April.
They were invited here by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, but they claimed they were impartial observers.
“Free and fair access to the media is a cornerstone of democracy, and I think that’s the area in which Malaysia needs to make most progress to ensure free and fair elections,” Malik said.
‘Somebody needs to do something’
He said EC officials shrugged off the issue when his team raised it with them.
“They said, ‘Well, we can’t do anything about it,’ but we know that the Malaysian Constitution empowers the commission to do everything possible to ensure free and fair elections,” Malik said.
“They can invoke that right and tell the government to do something about it. But instead they were telling us that the Information Ministry or some other agency controls the licensing.
“I think somebody needs to do something, and if nobody in the government is doing it, we feel it is the duty of the EC to say, ‘We see this as a hindrance to free and fair elections in the country.’”
He added that the EC was also unresponsive to his group’s recommendation that it ensure the integrity of electoral rolls and the proper establishment of a caretaker government after the dissolution of Parliament.
With regard to the electoral rolls, he said his group raised concerns about non-resident voters being registered by political parties in closely contested constituencies, the questionable use of government authority to register foreign born residents, and difficulties in challenging the validity of the rolls.