As every Malaysian would have known by now, the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of Parliament and hence paved the way for the nation’s thirteenth general elections. With that in mind, it is hoped that both the major political coalitions (Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat) as well as regional parties will engage their opponents in a constructive and meaningful manner, instead of the dirty tactics that we have seen — most especially during the Mahathir era.
However, it is a known fact that the Malaysian mainstream media has yet to achieve the standards of a mature democracy. This is regrettable but certainly could not be helped, as it is in the interest of the ruling coalition to let things stay as they are. This following excerpt from a book (pp. 76-77) written by Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, the former Chairman of the Elections Commission (or better known by its Malay acronym, SPR) certainly sums it up quite succinctly.
“The success of SPR in the conduct of democratic elections could be measured in terms of its ability and effectiveness in determining the conduct of fair electoral processes for all stakeholders.
One of the more important aspects of that responsibility lies in the manner in which the SPR would act to ensure that all political parties participating in the election would be treated equally and fairly within the network of the broadcasting programmes run by the government media bodies, as well as electronic and print media, be it private or public.
The international guideline on democratic electoral practices clearly indicated that media participation within the election period might result in the lessening of the desired level of fairness, freedom as well as transparency of the electoral process if it was seen that media broadcast and reports were taking sides.
The total blackout of information regarding issues highlighted by opposition parties during the election period is the normal complaint by opposition parties. The basic requirement of establishing the principle of “informed choices” for electors, under such circumstances, would never be achieved and especially so when SPR does not have power within the election legal framework to decide what is fair or not fair.
The international guidelines on media participation, adopted by almost all developed and developing democracies, does not allow party in power to have the monopolistic use of media channels (electronic or print) during the election period.
A lot of opinions had been openly expressed that to enhance the political integrity of the nation, particularly with respect to the principle of equality, justice, freedom and fairness, proper legislation should be put in place to control the monopolistic use of the official media network for political campaigning during elections. I believe that most Malaysians would not object to this”