Freedom of expression in Malaysia is restricted by legislation and through the concentration of media ownership in the hands of the ruling parties or those closely allied with them. All media are government controlled, directly through ownership or indirectly through individuals with political connections. The power of the news media to set a nation’s agenda, to focus public attention on a few key public issues, is an immense and well-documented influence. Not only do people acquire factual information about public affairs from the news media, readers and viewers also learn how much importance to attach to a topic on the basis of the emphasis placed on it in the news. Newspapers provide a host of cues about the salience of the topics in the daily news lead story on page one, other front page display, large headlines, etc. Television news also offers numerous cues about salience the opening story on the newscast, length of time devoted to the story, etc. These cues repeated day after day effectively communicate the importance of each topic. In other words, the news media can set the agenda for the public’s attention to that small group of issues around which public opinion forms.
Over this period of time, whatever it might be, a few issues are emphasized, some receive light coverage, and many are seldom or never mentioned. It should be noted that the use of term “agenda” here is purely descriptive. There is no slighting implication that a news organization “has an agenda” that it relentlessly pursues as a intentional goal. The media agenda presented to the public results from countless day-to-day decisions by many different journalists and their supervisors about the news of the moment. The public agenda the focus of public attention is commonly assessed by public opinion polls that ask some variation of the long-standing citizen question, “What is the most important problem facing this country today?”. Political issue always is the main issue that was focuses in newspaper and television. They just want the attention from the public to support them in general election or other thing that relate to government.
2.0 Body of Content
2.1 Pattern of Media ownership
Elements prominent on the media agenda become prominent in the public mind. Social scientists examining this media ownership influence of the news media on the public usually have focused on public issues. The agenda of a news organization is found in its pattern of coverage on public issues over some period of time, a week, a month, an entire year.
“The state refers to the institutions, agencies and agents that operate within a given territorial space, have legitimate power and authority over us, and can legitimate utilize force as an (ultimate)sanctions against us if we fail to accept its laws and orders, or resist its actions or act against it”. (Huggins: 330:2002). Hegemony is a relation, not of domination by means of force, but of consent by means of political and ideological leadership, it is the organization of consent” (Simon: 21:1985). According to Jamaie Hamil (2004), in the context of Malaysia, the freedom to voice or more relevantly as the freedom of press which forms the basis of democracy failed to flourish due to two major constraints namely:
(1) The ownership of the media by the government
(2) The implementation of laws relating to media and its practitioner.
Numerous articles and research were carried out on the matter relating to the ownership of the media in this country. The major political party of the Malay, United Malay National Organization (UMNO) itself had directly controlled the media specifically through the taking over Utusan Melayu in 1961 (Safar Hashim, 1996). In 1972, Pernas, the government owned national trading company, acquired 80 per cent control of the Straits Times (which changed its name to the New Straits Tinmes in 1974). Later, a majority of shares were transferred to Fleet Holdings, an investment arm of UMNO under the chairmanship of Dr. Mahathir’s close political associate, Daim Zainuddin. By the early 1980s UMNO had direct or indirect ownership of the New Straits Times, Berita Minggu, The Malay Mail, Utusan Melayu, and Utusan Malaysia (Means, 1991; 137). Likewise, in this drive to “Malaysianize” media ownership UMNO now has ownership of the Utusan Melayu newspaper group through a combination of shareholdings by individuals widely recognised as UMNO members and affiliates, and through shares held by nominee companies which are essentially UMNO’s investment companies (Zaharom, 2002: 125).
In Malaysia, the existence media ownership minimize the effect of such a media consolidation, the government formulates the usage of a legal mechanism in controlling media ownership. Nevertheless, it is yet to be seen how this legislative effort could be to a certain extent, be successful in restraining the economic, political and social torrent in media ownership by such a large media corporation to report the truth. In addition, the economic aspects of the small consumer groups? demand are been overlooked, and the extrinsic market has the tendencies to lead to oligopoly and monopoly (Rice, 2008, and Smith, Tambini and Morisi, 2012). In contrast, the public sphere perspective embraces the fundamental arguments relating to media ownership on democracy and social values.
2.2 The social effect of media ownership
2.2.1 Biases in Newspaper regarding political issues
During the 2018 Malaysian election campaign and in the days immediately afterwards, many people kept a close eye on the performance of the country’s press. Their aim was to encourage fair coverage of this crucial election campaign and encourage better performance in providing access to information and a platform for diverse views and voices.
The ‘Watching the Watchdog’ Media Monitoring the 14th General Election’ project released five preliminary and two comprehensive final reports, as well as 28 individual publication reports. As we can finds that Malaysian citizens relying on the state news wire, the English and Bahasa Malaysia language print newspapers, as well as television news in all three major languages, did not receive fair and balanced information. The only Malaysian media in the study which were found to provide relatively balanced political information were the online news portals and Mandarin-language print newspapers.
This widespread failure to conform to one of, if not the most basic tenet of professional journalism the provision of objective or balanced information amounts to a failure within the Malaysian media system as a whole. The effectiveness of a democratic system is fundamentally dependant on the provision of accurate and balanced information to the electorate and the media are keys to this process. Where there is insufficient transparency, there is the real risk that electoral decision making is based on inadequate information. Agenda setting or propaganda always is as one of the selection issue in now day media. Political party ownership and control of the mainstream Malaysian media, primarily by parties in the ruling coalition, has contributed significantly to this state of affairs, together with the lack of critical media education amongst state universities in Malaysia, which support conformity rather than critical thinking. There is very little questioning going on, instead media studies here is made up of more vocational-type training. “The ‘why’ question is hardly raised, this is what has been happening in universities since the 90s and I believe this is still happening now.”
When dissidents challenge the state’s democracy, the media become a tool for containing dissent. For example, in the wake of the sudden dismissal of Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s deputy, the full weight of the controlled mainstream media’s manipulation fell on Mahathir Mohamad and his followers. The mainstream media deliberately humiliated Mahathir as exemplified by the manner in which his street demonstrations and court trials were covered by the media in Malaysia. This have an aims that to show that the generally pro-BN coverage of the mainstream press in particular and the media in general is a crude manifestation of the symbiotic relationship between the state and the media, especially at a time when Malaysia was in the midst of an election. This paper examines the underlying causes of this close relationship, which provides the background to the kind of media reportage that emerged during the general elections and get the votes from the public. Finally, it explores the challenges and potential for some changes in Malaysia’s media landscape.
As a result, Malaysians in general had been deprived of the opportunity to make informed choices when they went to the polls. Equally important is that the public sphere in Malaysian society has been further constrained so that ordinary citizens and concerned civil society groups have not been able to fully express their views and to directly participate in the country’s democratic processes. Political rallies, for example, are generally banned in Malaysia. Official organs of the opposing political parties are confined to their respective memberships only. In this respect, the mainstream press and other media were, and still are, instrumental in helping to promote the states hegemonic influence over the society. It is evident then that the mainstream Malaysian media contribute to the erosion of the Malaysian electorates’ democratic right to information. As a result, the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press have been severely curbed. Another major consequence of this is the concentration of media ownership in the hands of groups closely aligned with the ruling coalition, or individuals who are friendly to the powers-that-be. The narrow win for the People’s Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat) has established the opposition Barisan Nasional a coalition of three parties as a real and viable alternative government for Malaysia. The opposition coalition first gained headway against the People’s Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat) in the 2018 General Election, but continues to suffer from low support amongst People Alliance’s strategically important rural vote banks.
As conclusion urban readers are more connected with new media and compare content with the alternative media. They see that the same event is given a different slant in the mainstream so people question this issue. Before the general election, electoral watchdog Bersih and the opposition parties called on Malaysians to boycott the New Straits Times, The Star, Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia for perceived unbalanced reporting. Analysts said the boycott would have little real effect in numbers that the mainstream media should be wary of Malaysia’s strong civil society eroding their credibility.
All mainstream papers reported in favour of their owners but after the election, The Sinar Harian is the only newspaper that has become more balanced. This will come out that newspaper was very biased (during the campaign) to voice out their manifesto and the voters. The pictures in people’s minds about the outside world are significantly influenced by the mass media, both what those pictures are about and what those pictures are. The ownership effects of the mass media also have significant implications beyond the pictures created in people’s heads. In the original, traditional domain of agenda-setting, the salience of public issues, there is considerable evidence that the shifting salience of issues on the media agenda often are the basis for public opinion about the overall performance in office of a public leader. Beyond attitudes and opinions, the pictures of reality created by the mass media have implications for personal behaviors, ranging from college applications to voting on elections day. Politicians lose out on votes, journalists lose out on credibility, and the society loses out on information. In the end, we’re all losers in this toxic game.