Media reporting in Malaysia

INTRODUCTION

In early 2015, Malaysia was thrown into the spotlight and attention of the world for a very wrong reason as the world’s biggest financial scandal broke out after being exposed by a British journalist, Clare Rewcastle Brown (McKirdy, 2015). This news surrounding Malaysia’s state development fund 1MDB has gripped the nation for years.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak set up 1Malaysia Development Bhd in 2009 to boost the economy and further develop the country through strategic investments in property, infrastructure and energy projects. According to BBC (2016), 1MDB started to attract negative attention in 2015 after it missed payments for some of the $11bn it owed to banks and bondholders. The U.S. Department of Justice filed lawsuits to seize properties amounting to over $3.5 billion misappropriated from 1MDB and it involved multiple individuals, including Malaysian officials and their associates (CNBC, 2016).

Further investigations also lead to finding RM2.6 billion channeled into Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s private bank accounts. He denied any wrongdoings and said the money was a personal donation from Saudi Arabia’s royal family, he was later cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by Malaysia’s Attorney General (Popham, 2016). A number of individuals confronted Datuk Seri Najib Razak including former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir and former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Dato’ Muhyiddin Yassin who was sacked because of critical comments on the 1MDB case.

In Malaysia, there are a few acts to control the reporting of the mass media. First is The Printing Presses Act of 1948. The Act stipulates that a potential publisher must secure a licence to use a printing press, as well as a permit (called a KDN number) authorising him to print or publish a newspaper. Both the licence and the permit expire each 31 December, and must be renewed through the Ministry of Home Affairs, which can withdraw either without explanation at any time. When a licence or Permit is withdrawn, the publisher has the right of appeal to the King. The Minister, when issuing a permit, may make conditions upon the publisher, such as requiring him to print in the languages specified in the permit or to post bond against penalties imposed because of potential violation of this or other Acts. Since 1970, all permit holders must guarantee that their publications will not distort facts relating to public order incidents within Malaysia, will not inflame or stir up communal hostility, or use material likely to prejudice public order or national security. Any change in ownership of the press must be declared to the Registrar within 21 days. The Ministry also has the power to direct publishers to insert in their papers a denial or correction written on the Minister’s terms, if he feels a statement is false. (Nzetc.victoria.ac.nz, 2017)

Second act is The Internal Security Act 1960. This Act makes special provisions relating to subversive publications and reinforces the Sedition Ordinance. The Minister of Home Affairs is given broad restrictive powers over mass media. The most unattractive characteristic of the Internal Security Act however, is that it allows for preventative detention of suspects who have not been formally charged and who are not given an opportunity to challenge the grounds for their detention. (Nzetc.victoria.ac.nz, 2017)

The third act is The Public Order Ordinance 1958. Under this Act, the Minister in charge of Internal Security can authorise the telecommunications authorities to withdraw totally or partially the use of any or all telecommunications facilities from any person, group of persons or the public at large. (Nzetc.victoria.ac.nz, 2017)

Fourth act is The National News Agency – Bernama. The Malaysian Government uses Bernama to disseminate information to the mass media. This Agency was established by Act of Parliament on April 6, 1967, with a Government grant of $1,500,000. In its first phase Bernama transmitted only Kuala Lumpur news, but, by 1 July, 1969, its coverage was extended to Penang, Ipoh, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. A year later, state offices and bureaux were developed throughout the country and correspondents were stationed in Jakarta and Bangkok. The fourth stage was initiated in September, 1973, when Bernama began the reception and retransmission of foreign news to the Malaysian mass media. By this means the government is attempting to control all news entering and leaving Malaysia. (Nzetc.victoria.ac.nz, 2017)

Lastly is The Control of Imported Publications Ordinance 1958. The Minister of Home Affairs can stop the importation of any publication at his discretion, and the ban can be permanent. For example: Play Boy magazine has been banned in Malaysia since May, 1972, and the 5 November, 1973 issue of Time magazine was stopped because of its use of a picture and caption of the prophet Mohammed. The June, 1973 issue of The Far Eastern Economic Review was banned because of a story on the Malaysian Chinese Association crisis, and on 3 September, 1973, an issue has pages 27 and 28 deleted because of a story on the new deputy prime minister of Malaysia. (Nzetc.victoria.ac.nz, 2017)

BACKGROUND OF THE NEWSPAPERS

The Star, is a daily English-language newspaper in Malaysia. It was first published on 9 September 1971 as a regional newspaper based in Penang then later went into national circulation on 3 January 1976. Later with the convergence of media, The Star has invented The Star Online, a platform to publish news on the internet for free and to make other people’s life easier when it comes to viewing the news. This newspaper is owned by Star Media Group Berhad which is formerly known as Star Publications (Malaysia) Berhad. It is owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a political party in Malaysia, one of the component parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional (The Star (Malaysia), 2017). The paper contains 5 main elements – The Main Paper includes national, world and sports news; StarBiz includes business and finance news; Star 2 includes lifestyle, entertainment, health, parenting, social etiquette, environment, fashion and more; Star Bytz includes tech news, software and gadgets which is published every Tuesday; Star Metro focuses on community-based stories and Star Classifieds (AdQrate, n.d.).

In Audit Bureau of Circulation Malaysia’s 2016 report on the copies of newspapers distribution in Malaysia between July 2016 to December 2016, The Star has achieved 220,972 copies countrywide. You can read the details in the organisation’s report (Audit Bureau of Circulation Malaysia, 2016).

On the other side, Free Malaysia Today is an online news portal. It is a completely independent, bilingual news portal with a focus on Malaysian current affairs. It is first founded in 2009 with the objectivity – the missing dimension in today’s news scene. Free Malaysia Today is owned by MToday News Sdn. Bhd. which is completely free and independent from the government. This news portal consists of six elements – National News; Opinion; World News; Leisure; Sports and Business. Free Malaysia Kini is now one of the Malaysia’s most accessed news sites with more than 1.5 million pageviews daily (FMT News, n.d.).

FINDINGS/RESULTS

Both The Star and Free Malaysia Today reported on the former minister and a minister of Malaysia accusing each other for receiving funds from the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s controversial RM2.6 billion donation.

In this particular case, The Star chose to use a simple and straight to the point headline to summarise this issue. “Shafie denies receiving funds linked to 1MDB” shows that the main focus of this article is on this specific former minister of Malaysia did not receive any funds and The Star used this headline to have the audience’s main focus on the false accusation. As for Free Malaysia Today, they used “Shafie: Nazri gave thumbs up when I asked about 1MDB in Cabinet” as their headline. With this headline, Free Malaysia Today gets to attract the audience’s attention especially the taxpayers. This is because this 1MDB case is the hottest topic in the country which the corrupted ministers stole a huge amount of money from the people. Therefore, with this headline, the public will have interests on finding out the reason why did Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz gave his thumbs up when Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal asked about 1MDB during cabinet meeting but now accusing Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, former UMNO deputy president on receiving funds from the RM2.6 billion donation.

Both The Star and Free Malaysia Today used the same sources for this issue which are Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, the former UMNO Vice President, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Tourism and Culture minister and President of Parti Warisan Sabah. Mostly reported are the point of views by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal on the accusation from Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz that stated him and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, former UMNO deputy president received funds from the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who involved in the case of RM2.6 billion donation. Comparing the way of reporting of the both news sources, The Star showed their respect to the ministers by including their titles in the article but on the other side, Free Malaysia Today did not include any of the ministers’ titles in the article.

Moreover, The Star did not include any personal feelings in reporting the news. The Star is more to summarising Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s denial on the accusation while Free Malaysia Today reported in the quotation way which reported the exact thing Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said to the public about this matter. Free Malaysia Today’s news reporting is filled Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s emotions as it is his own words and the readers are able to connect with him to a certain extent on an emotional level. Both have the same purpose in the articles which is Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal denies on receiving funds from the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and he has no idea why did Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz accuse him and Tan Seri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The visual image included in Free Malaysia Today is the image of Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz which is relevant to this issue. As for The Star, they did not include any visual image for this matter. It is just reported in the simplest way, not much elaboration and no image was included. It would be better if the both actually include the picture of Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal when he was giving explanation on the 1MDB accusation so that the public gets to see his expression while talking to let them judge if they should trust him.

Both The Star and Free Malaysia Today wrote on Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and Nazri’s viewpoint but the focus was mainly on Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s viewpoint. Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s viewpoint predominated in both the articles and the rival viewpoint from Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz has less exposure so there was an obvious imbalance of viewpoints presented. Besides that, Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s voice is missing from the news article as the whole conflict is due to the RM2.6 billion funding that was found in his personal bank accounts. Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s viewpoint should not be neglected as he is in the position to provide information on who has received money from him, if he had spoken out on this matter, all the confusion will be cleared.

With respect to whether the two newspapers are taking a position, The Star chose to remain neutral in reporting this incident by ensuring its article is short and written in a third person point of view, it only has one direct quote from Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal. On the other hand, Free Malaysia Today’s article is lengthy and is focused on Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal in detail and used a lot of word for word reporting from Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal. This reinforced the existing stereotype that Datuk Seri Najib Razak is indeed a corrupted leader and that Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz is also part of the scandal while Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal is the innocent one. In this light, it can be seen that The Star is trying to take the middle road while Free Malaysia Today is very much against the government. Also, both The Star and Free Malaysia Today reported facts only without commentary as the whole article are based only on the information and words of the interviewee.

DISCUSSION

Both The Star and Free Malaysia Today only focused on Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s denial on Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz’s accusation. In the articles also mentioned Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, former UMNO deputy president but both of their opinions or sayings aren’t included in the article. The main focus in this issue is the RM2.6 billion donation that received by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia that was rumoured that it is a fund from 1MDB. However, it is rumoured that the other ministers in Malaysia did received funds that caused the minister in Malaysia taking sides.

As mentioned, the main focus in this issue should be the leader who is Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia. The both The Star and Free Malaysia Today should focus more on Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and not the ministers of Malaysia who are trying to finger pointing at each other regarding to this matter. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, as the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the leader of all the minister, he should be giving his explanation on the funds and did he gives any minister any part of the funds. However, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak did not take the initiative to stop the rumours but just let everything to go around the public which caused the Malaysians to be upset and disappointed due to the corrupted minister in Malaysia.

In Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s denial also mentioned Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin but in both articles did not have any of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s veiwpoint in this matter. It is mostly Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s sayings that included Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Both The Star and Free Malaysia should focus on everyone who are involved instead of just two who are just giving their viewpoints to the public. This somehow shows that the both The Star and Free Malaysia Today have the intention of putting the focus on other people instead of the main cause of this issue.

There are a few differences in the way of reporting between The Star and Free Malaysia Today. This is due to The Star is mainly a pro government newspaper which owns by one of the political parties in Malaysia while Free Malaysia Today is a free magazine. Therefore, both The Star and Free Malaysia used some of the communication theories for reporting.

Gatekeeping Theory, gatekeeping is one of the oldest theory in the field of mass communication research. It is the process of filtering and selecting the items of media that can be consumed by public, which means it is more of a role of monitoring, surveillance of incoming data and sorting them out. Gatekeeping theory in mass communication can be seen as the overall process through which the social reality transmitted by the news media is constructed. In a world where “fake news” often competes with “real news,” gatekeeping can be programmed to tell the differences between the two types of content so that only the preferred data points are consumed by each individual. (Communication Theory, 2017)

Normally, gatekeepers have their own influence in cultural, political, ethical and social field. Throughout this process, unwanted, sensitive and controversial information are removed by the gatekeepers.

There are also a few factors that influence Gatekeeping Theory, which are Individuals, Routines, Third Part Media, Organizations and Ideologies. Every individual has a different frame of reference so they analyse the truth or sources differently based on their experiences, perspectives, and beliefs. Next, every organization has different agendas, ethics and rules to abide to, so these criterion will influence the news. Not only this, information also tend to follow the same pattern as the accepted societal norms within certain demographics of consumers. (Communication Theory, 2017.

The common intention in gatekeeping may also have influential factors on policies and procedures, advertising on buying behavior, mass media political campaigns voting, playing the role of a watchdog within the society. Gatekeeping theory can also be dangerous as it can lead to an abuse of power by deciding what information to discard and what to let pass. The relationship between former minister Dato Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal claims UMNO leader Nazri Aziz had once discreetly by given him the thumbs up for raising the questions on 1MDB at cabinet meetings in Petaling Jaya. On Sunday, in Kuala Lumpur, Nazri with UMNO Overseas Alumni Club members during a tell-all session, admitted to having received about RM500,000 from the donation, to “repair homes” in his Padang Rengas parliamentary constituency, which had 30 UMNO divisions. But Nazri claimed that both Shafie and Muhyiddin had more many UMNO divisions under their respective parliamentary constituencies.

In Agenda-setting theory, it is common to assume that agenda-setting theory is the ability of media to influence the visibility of events in the public mind. Thus, the concept of agenda setting in our society is the press selectively choose what we see or hear in the media. The media concentration on a few issues leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues. (Universiteit Twente, 2017)

Furthermore, agenda-setting theory has 2 levels, which are the first level theory and second level theory. In first level theory the more coverage an issue receives in the news media, the more important the public will perceive the issue to be important. Next, second level theory also known as framing expand the research by focusing on the certain attributes to objects in the news. The basis of framing theory are how something is presented to the audience influences the choices of people make about how to process that information. Normally agenda setting theory can be cognitive, dealing with factual information about the object or dealing with the tone or valence positive neutral or negative. (Universiteit Twente, 2017) For example, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal denies receiving funds linked 1MDB. Former vice president of UMNO says that he never received any funds linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). “As far as I know, Najib never gave me any money from 1MDB” said by Shafie.

As mentioned above in the background of newspapers, The Star is owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) which is pro government so the news article written by The Star is more neutral. It is obvious that The Star does not want to take any sides so the news was kept short and the way it was reported is to not start an uproar. Free Malaysia Today on the other hand is not owned by the government, nor is it owned by the opposition parties so it exercises freedom of speech as best as it could and to not be biased to any parties or sides. The way Free Malaysia Today reported the news reflected Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s emotions clearly.

Conclusion

The issue about 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) is a heat topic all over the world. Even though Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak denies that the RM 2.6 billion are from 1MDB funds, but that’s not convincing enough for the public to believe in him.

This is because it is not only him who is involved in the 1MDB issue but also the Malaysia ministers who are pointing fingers towards each other on this matter. This shows that the corruption and the darkness of politics in Malaysia.

The Star as a pro government newspaper did a great job in reporting this issue about the both ministers involved by being neutral and just report the article in the simplest and easiest way they can so that the public gets the whole picture of Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s denial on the accusation.

Free Malaysia Today as an alternative newspaper in Malaysia which is not owned by the government, nor is it owned by the opposition parties did not take a side either in this issue. Free Malaysia Today chose an expressive way to report Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s denial on the accusation so that the public will get to feel his emotions through the writing.

In conclusion, neither of The Star or Free Malaysia Today took a side in reporting but they chose a completely different way to write the article. However, both The Star and Free Malaysia Today did apply some of the communication theories as mentioned above to avoid getting in trouble with Malaysia’s mass media acts.

REFERENCES

Audit Bureau of Circulation Malaysia (2016). Latest Audit Reports – July to December 2016. Available from : http://abcm.org.my/wp-content/reports/2016/abc-circulation-figures-jul-16-to-dec-16-newspapers-states-distribution.pdf. [Accessed 28 July 2017].

BBC (2016) 1MDB: The case that has riveted Malaysia. BBC [online]. 22 July. Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33447456 [Accessed 28 June 2017].

CNBC (2016) Malaysia will cooperate with ‘lawful investigations’ of 1MDB, Najib’s office says. CNBC [online]. 20 July. Available from: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/20/us-justice-department-files-lawsuit-in-connection-with-1mdb-probe.html [Accessed 28 June 2017].

Communication Theory. (2017). GateKeeping Theory. [online] Available at: http://communicationtheory.org/gatekeeping-theory/ [Accessed 29 June 2017].

McKirdy, E (2015) What’s behind Malaysia’s ‘1MDB’ scandal?. CNN [online]. 4 September. Available from: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/04/asia/malaysia-1mdb-scandal-explainer/index.html [Accessed 28 June 2017]

Nzetc.victoria.ac.nz. (2017). Control of Mass Media in Malaysia — MASSAL (Malaysian and Singaporean Students Association in London) 1.2.75 | NZETC. [online] Available at: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Salient38181975-t1-body-d14-d4.html [Accessed 1 Jul. 2017].

Popham, P (2016) Malaysia PM Najib Razak cleared of corruption over $681m gift from Saudis – by an Attorney General he appointed. The Independent [online]. 26 January. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/saudi-arabias-680m-gift-to-malaysian-prime-minister-najib-razak-perfectly-legal-a6834241.html [Accessed 28 June 2017].

The Star (Malaysia). 2017. Wikipedia [online]. 04 April. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star_(Malaysia) [Accessed 28 June 2017].

The Star. n.d., AdQrate [online]. Available from : http://adqrate.com/newspaper/details?id=32&type=1 [Accessed 28 July 2017]

Universiteit Twente. (2017). Mass Media | Agenda Setting Theory. [online] Available at: http://www.utwente.nl/en/bms/communication-theories/sorted-by-cluster/Mass%20Media/Agenda-Setting_Theory/ [Accessed 29 June 2017].

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