RTM should serve its rightful masters – the Malaysian people

RTM should serve its rightful masters – the Malaysian people
By Zan Azlee

Dear YB Gobind Singh Deo,

With all due respect, the debate of whether our national broadcaster RTM should be broadcasting live this minister or that, this menteri besar or that, or if they are only obligated to broadcast the prime minister, just seems to be missing the point. What really needs to be discussed is the issue of who is RTM really obligated to.

About five years ago, I was on a press junket overseas with several other journalists who were from RTM and Bernama (our national news agency). Somehow, the conversation moved towards how Malaysia was being represented in foreign countries.

Then, the RTM and Bernama journalists said that they have always been told by their bosses and the ministry that whenever they were overseas, as RTM and Bernama journalists, they were supposed to represent the Malaysian government. This really irked me (of course, you were not the minister then!).

Firstly, they are journalists and not diplomats. Secondly, as much as journalism is a very important part of democracy, journalists should not be representing a government. Journalists and journalism exist to serve the public and act as watchdogs observing the government.

So today, when I read with interest, reports of different ministries and state governments feeling insulted because they were not given what they thought as fair airtime by RTM, it just triggered me into remembering the irk that I had, listening to the group of journalists several years ago.

As the Communications and Multimedia minister, of whom the purview of RTM falls under, I applaud your statement saying that RTM has no obligations in having to broadcast any minister’s speech live. However, you also stated that the only obligation they have for that is to the prime minister.

RTM should also not have any obligations to air live any of the prime minister’s speech. The only obligation RTM should have is to the Malaysian people.

A state broadcaster should not be used as a propaganda tool for the government in power. It can be used to disseminate important information from the government that the people need to know, but I repeat, it is not to be used as a propaganda tool.

I am of the belief that a state broadcaster like RTM needs to have a responsibility to the people of the state and not to the government. So, if a minister or the prime minister is saying something that is newsworthy and important enough for the people, only then should RTM be obligated to do so.

I would strongly suggest that RTM be fully funded by the state (ie: taxpayers money) and should not be privatised or semi-privatised. There should not be any private advertising or sponsorship because full editorial independence from corporate funding needs to exist.

In fact, there also needs to be a separation between RTM’s editorial direction and the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, and the whole government administration as a whole. I would suggest setting up an independent committee to run the editorial operations of RTM.

This independent committee will report to the Malaysian public where all their decisions are to be made transparent. They should not report to the ministry or the government. I suggest that a law is proposed to maintain this independence so that the people’s right to information is protected.

Private media organisations can never be fully independent just because their modus operandi is different. They need to make a profit. However, a state broadcaster fully funded by the taxpayers can be fully independent if it is given the right authority to do so.

So dear YB Gobind, I humbly implore you to consider that RTM is made independent so it can serve its rightful masters – the people of Malaysia. Here is an opportunity to create something that can really contribute towards a democratic Malaysia and towards nation building.

What say you?

Zan Azlee

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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