MARCH 7 — This International Women’s Day, we stand in solidarity with women in the media dedicated to deliver critical information to the Malaysian public — sometimes at great risk to their personal safety. They are journalists, photographers, fixers, editors, producers and women working in many other capacities to keep media operations moving around the clock.
These women exist in a challenging landscape where laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) are there to keep media on a tight rein. In the last couple of years alone we have seen online portal The Malaysian Insider forced to shut down over coverage of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) global scandal. Meanwhile, access to other online portals writing critically about government such as the Asia Sentinel, Malaysia Chronicle and Sarawak Report have been blocked by local internet service providers on the instruction of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
In this stifling environment, the media cannot fulfill its function to keep checks and balances. And in a worst-case scenario, media outfits are forced to fold and the livelihood of staff — many of whom are women — will be affected.
That said, state-imposed censorship is not the only challenge. Deeply entrenched patriarchal culture and structures within media organisations also negatively impact women in the industry. Media ownership in Malaysia is dominated by political parties and men who perpetuate unfavourable conditions for women. Directorships and senior editorial positions are occupied by men who then make important decisions about content and organisational policies without much input or consideration for the rights of women.
In January this year, two women journalists from Malaysia spoke to the Asian Correspondent on their experience of being sexually harassed by politicians. One of them even received lewd messages and experienced physical harassment. These women are among the brave few who have gone public about a problem long plaguing the media industry.
It is unknown if their respective organisations will take constructive action on the allegations but the president of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mohd Taufek Razak, was quick to indulge in victim blaming. Instead of standing up for his colleagues, he was cited in various news reports telling women journalists to “not wear clothes that are too revealing or sexy” and to watch how they communicate, socialise and present themselves in interviews. These are sexist and patronising remarks that are rarely, if ever, directed to men.
The NUJ has since backtracked from Mohd Taufek’s comments but that his words were uttered at all is a reflection of entrenched sexism and gender discrimination in this profession. Victim blaming and attacking women based on their gender and sexuality have been well documented and widely critiqued tactics to shut down women’s freedom of expression.
The Centre for Independent Journalism calls on members of the media, at all levels, to address the cultural and structural problems within the media institution that continues to marginalise women. And as the general election approaches and more women are expected to be assigned to the field, we urge all parties to ensure they are able to carry out their duties without facing any forms of threats or discrimination.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.