World Press Freedom Day Virtual Forum 2021

Co-organised by the United Nations, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and SUHAKAM. Supported by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia

Good morning and Selamat Pagi.

Ladies and gentlemen, before I start I would like to send my best wishes to YB Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister of Communications and Multimedia. He would have been our distinguished keynote speaker today, but he is unable to be with us as he is being hospitalized. I wish you a quick recovery, Dato’.

Distinguished moderators, speakers, and participants,

Today the world community marks World Press Freedom Day with the theme  “information as a public good” and I warmly welcome you all to our event.

My special greetings go to our partners in this event:

- Tan Sri Othman Bin Hashim, Chairman of SUHAKAM,

- H. E. Aart Jacobi, Ambassador, Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands,

- And the Ministry of Communication and Multi-media, who is supporting this event today.

- Excellencies,

- Members of the media

-Distinguished guests

A free and independent media is the bedrock of democracy and human rights and is critical to the development of any country.  In fact, it is difficult to overstate its significance for any country’s long-term development and for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs).

In fact, there is a specific target under the SDGs - Goal 16, Target 16.10. to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms.

A free media provides us with information and facts, including often uncomfortable news about people or groups that have been left out, about environmental damages, about ineffective or corrupt administrations. 

In this way the free media through diverse channels of reporting expands our knowledge, drives conversations of public concern, gives a voice to the voiceless, and makes government and other actors more responsive and more accountable. And this in turn creates a more efficient and inclusive development and a more vibrant democracy.

These essential benefits of free media should always be remembered when looking to tackle challenges of low confidence in the media and attacks on the press.

The United Nations in Malaysia appreciates the courage of journalists, many of whom are here today - who enrich our lives so much with their independent reporting and by speaking truth to power; as well as with the tireless work to report on the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts on the economy and lives - over the past one year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Similar to COVID there is also an important role of media in informing the public about SDG progress. Indeed the media is key to shine a light on the gaps and challenges towards achieving our common goals for the future we want.  

This is why the United Nations launched the SDG Media Compact, to raise awareness of the Goals, to help galvanize further action, and to help hold governments to account for the 2030 Agenda. By disseminating facts, human stories and solutions, the Compact is a powerful driver for advocacy, action and accountability on the SDGs.

The Compact currently includes more than 100 members, reaching a combined audience of about 2 billion people in 160 countries across five continents.

I therefore, invite all media in Malaysia to join the UN SDG Media Compact and be a critical actor to reporting on SDG achievement in Malaysia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year’s theme is “information as public good”. Indeed, the right to information can be fulfilled only in an environment where the media operates freely as a vehicle for disseminating information. For this three criteria need to be promoted – a supportive legal environment, economic enablers, and a firewall to political influence.

Like in many countries the realization of freedom of media in Malaysia is work in progress. The UN hopes that media freedom can be further bolstered as part of ‘building back better’ from the COVID crisis. In particular, it is hoped that the set of laws that currently still hamper media freedom can be repealed or amended to ensure that the right to information and freedom of the press are fully respected for the benefit of Malaysian society.

However, freedom of media comes with responsibility and accountability. The responsibility to report with independence, due diligence and authenticity in order to avoid the proliferation of fake news. And the accountability not to promote or incite discrimination, hate messages and intolerance. These are cardinal principles of ethical journalism.

indeed, while the media is a powerful tool for development, it can also be used for more nefarious reasons – sowing disunity and spreading fake news. And the proliferation of digital and social media has increased the challenges in this regard, not the least during the COVID-19 crisis. 

As a response many countries have introduced fake news laws. It is important that these laws are drafted in line with international standards to avoid that the precious good of freedom of media - our greatest ally in combatting misinformation and disinformation is undermined. Hence international standards require among others that restrictions must be provided by law, which is clear and unambiguous, and that punitive measures must be proportionate to the alleged offence committed. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 21st century presents a challenging time for the media industry. And  we anticipate that some of these challenges will be openly discussed today by our panel of vibrant moderators and speakers – on topics ranging from policy reforms, media freedom to the role of youth; and importantly, the survival and sustainability of media in a fast evolving world.

I would also like to use this opportunity, to commend the Government of Malaysia for its efforts in developing the country’s first Freedom of Information legislation, where engagements are currently ongoing with various stakeholders. This is definitely a good way forward and the UN stands ready to provide any support that may be required.

And on that positive note, I wish you all fruitful and engaging discussions today.

Thank you. 

 

Speech by
Author
Stefan Priesner
Resident Coordinator
UN
Stefan Priesner
UN entities involved in this initiative
RCO
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UNESCO
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization