How does the Malaysian media portray women and gender issues? Is gender inequality still stereotyped and sensationalized in media coverage? For our first episode, together with our guest speakers, Angela M. Kuga Thas explores the topic of the media industry ensuring adequate and regular coverage on gender issues, including a gender perspective on issues.

Featuring guest speakers: Wathshlah Naidu, Executive Director of Centre for Independent Journalism, and Zurairi AR., Assistant News Editor for The Malay Mail

Wathslah G. Naidu from the Centre for Independent Journalism also shared a lot of information to help us better understand how media can improve to better promote gender equality, the role of the State, and the challenges media face in playing its role as media.

How can media improve to better able to promote gender equality

In this context, I would say depressing scenario (where media is facing a great financial challenge and are in survivor mode), I think what it needs is two things perhaps. If it is change from bottom to top, we need a layer of awareness, responsibility and maybe more education on media’s role in promoting and protecting gender equality. That’s the bottom-up approach. They need to take the initiative, and this is not just the journalists, we are talking about editors too who are often assigning jobs to the journalist and decide what to write.

The publishers are not going to push this agenda forward. What are the motivation and carrots for the publishers to ensure that the media plays its role in promoting gender equality? This is where we need to look at the top-down approach – what are the current policies that create the sustainable environment for media to take on this expected role in them, to conduct more investigative journalism and adding the gender lens in any kinds of news that they come up with. This is where we need to look at policy and not just law reform. This is also where we need an entity like a media council, a self-regulatory body that will develop its own content code of conduct and plays its role in holding the media accountable and ensuring the code of conduct is implemented and also provide the platform for people to arbitrate for dispute. 

The role of the state 

If people are looking at their sinking ships and worrying about how they are going to survive, then the carrot becomes really important. This is where I think the role of the State is really important. I think interim measurements are needed and media would need financial assistance—what kind of tax incentive they have, do they have access to short term loans. I call this interim because obviously media needs to be completely independent of the State but this is a time of crisis and they do need these incentives, including to get revenue through government advertising, it cannot be just government giving a slice or a piece to their state media or a media of their choice which will become their tools to push forward their propaganda, but all media should have access to this. 

Now with how the stage has changed, with social media and the role of news aggregator and big players like Facebook, there have to be ways to hold these multimillion tech corporations accountable to certain ways in sharing their advertising revenue. For example, revenue that is generated through content by local media outlets. So, we need to figure out ways of rethinking the business model of media so that they can survive in a very competitive environment because we don’t want to lose these alternative media that often quite heavily rely on subscription fees or some kind of donations at times. We need this large spectrum of media so that there is healthy competition and healthy competition will lead to media playing a transformative role.

Roles we should expect from the medi

Help ensure that information and news is provided in ways that apply a gender lens. Media needs to do its part to ensure that indigenous women, not just in peninsular but also in Sabah and Sarawak are able to access the information. Especially when access is also limited by infrastructure. We just did an information ecosystem assessment in Sabah and Sarawak and the community has such limited access to phone signal and internet access. So, how would news be channelled, how would it reach out to the women, for example, through the economic recovery packages, there are many incentives for B40 women, but women in the households may not have the information because they don’t have access to phone or internet because we failed to apply the gender lens in the way we channel information and the news.

Educate the public. For example, during the Sabah election, we were monitoring and the media was actually playing the role of educating people their right to vote and how can you vote and what happens if someone is trying to bribe you. And looking at the women voters, what are the issues that is of particular interest or priority to women, actually talking to the people on the grounds, gets you the information. Things like knowing your rights when you are stopped by police but with a gender lens, we know if you are a woman, there can be cases of sexual harassment and if women know their rights about these things, women can be empowered and feel brave enough to bring these cases up. But how many women had to go through this experience without knowing their rights. 

Play a transformative role in creating this new societal model that we want, one that breaks down gender stereotype, stigmatization and persecution that are gender-based. We also want the media to take on this role of taking down structural barriers. This is going to require more discussion with the media and more awareness-raising among the media themselves in how they can do this. In Malaysia, we can reach this stage where media takes on the very progressive role where we no longer see the commodification of women in terms of how their images are portrayed through advertisement. For example, we are also seeing a certain portrayal of the LGBTQ community by media that has led to further persecution of the community. We need the media to play this transformative role and it is a long-term goal.