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Of khalwat and the right to know

Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa - Photograph: Facebook

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The controversy over a minister’s comments on khalwat and enforcement and how it was reported in the media was analysed in this editorial in the Malaysian Insight on 8 October:

The furore surrounding Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Rawa’s recent comment on khalwat (close proximity) caused – rightly or wrongly – uneasiness, if not anger, within segments of the Malay-Muslim community.

Equally important, it also poses serious journalistic concern when it affects matters of ethics, professionalism and media credibility, especially now that Mujahid’s aide has insisted that The Star, which published the comments originally made in an interview, issue an apology within 24 hours.

To be sure, the alleged error must be investigated by the media organisation, and its findings must be made public as it would be instructive not only for the journalistic fraternity but also concerned members of the public.

It is serious enough an accusation that the reporter or editor had put words into the mouth of the minister. In other words, a deliberate distortion.

In the so-called New Malaysia, accusations of being “misquoted”, “quoted out of context” and “distorted facts” of yore cannot be conveniently wished away or, worse, stonewalled by the news organisation.

Neither should such accusations stand without enough evidence and arguments being offered.

The Star, in the spirit of maintaining journalistic standards and ethics and preventing a trust deficit, ought to explain if it is in the wrong, why protecting “the private and personal sphere” is not the same as not wanting enforcement officers to “interfere with the personal sphere”.

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This is apart from an attempt to clear the air for the benefit of the faithful in the country’s Muslim communities whether snooping on couples is an acceptable practice in Islam.

To reiterate, in the absence of a press complaints committee or, for that matter, a media council, an internal investigation should be executed by the media organisation and its findings made public.

This process is vital because not only are politicians, particularly government leaders, made to account for what they say and do, journalists and editors should also be judged by the same rule – for it goes a long way towards promoting journalistic standards and professionalism as well as press freedom and responsibility.

As for having a media council, which has been touted lately by the government or its representatives as an important mechanism to maintain journalistic ethics and professionalism in the country, there are prerequisites to consider, lest we put the cart before the horse.

For one thing, repressive or undemocratic laws, such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act, must be repealed or, in certain cases, refined to avoid ambiguity in the laws that can then be abused by the powers that be.

This is because the notion of a media council rests firmly on the assumption that media organisations and journalists are free to self-regulate and exercise responsibility, thereby making unnecessary state intervention in the day-to-day running of a media organisation.

Of course, this is not the be-all and end-all. The composition of the media council is another issue that can be contentious. Who sits on the council, in many ways, would indicate the level of its independence.

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While we wait for such a body called a media council to take shape, it is incumbent upon newspaper organisations, particularly The Star, to do the needful. In this regard, keeping the outcome of an in-house investigation within the four walls of the news organisation is not the same as jealously guarding one’s private sphere.

Source: The Malaysian Insight, 8 October 2018, editorial

The Star’s clarification on 8 October

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