Dr Tessa J. Houghton and Professor Zaharom Nain from the Centre for the Study of Communications and Culture collaborated with the Malaysian Centre for Independent Journalism on 'Watching the Watchdog': Media Monitoring the 13th General Election.
The project monitored the election coverage within 29 different Malaysian media, from Peninsular Malaysia to Sabah and Sarawak; across print, television and online media; and in 4 languages (English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil). The project has been planned for over a year, with research assistants attending multiple training workshops since last September.
The objective of the monitoring was to gauge media performance in its treatment of political figures and parties, as well as key policy issues. The monitoring began on April 7th, and continued until just after polling day (7th May 2013), with a team of around 70 research assistants or 'coders' gathering data from the most popular and influential media around Malaysia.
Many of the coders were from the University of Nottingham Campus's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, with others coming from public and private universities in Penang, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu, as well as civil society coders from around the Klang Valley. The project has generated over 450,000 data points, which have been analysed to produce detailed statistics on the media's treatment of different politicians, political parties, and issues.
Watching the Watchdog is part of a larger collaborative project with National Institute for Electoral Integrity (NIEI) and Merdeka Center entitled “Creating a Robust and Transparent Electoral Process in Malaysia”.
Data Releases and Conclusions
The project released five medium-term and a two comprehensive final reports, as well as 28 individual media publication reports, all of which can be found via the projects Scribd 'Watching the Watchdog' Document Collection.
The reports were launched via a public forum at the Universiti Kebangasaan Malaysia, and were also presented as evidence of media bias at the Bersih People's Tribunal in September 2013.
The project has produced concerning data on the state of the Malaysian media ecosystem, finding 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. The only Malaysian media found to provide relatively balanced political information were the online news portals and Mandarin-language print newspapers.
Dr Houghton commented that “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 dereliction of duty on the part of the Malaysian media, and has grave repercussions for Malaysia’s democratic integrity.”
Professor Nain places the blame for this state of affairs on the political-economic control of the Malaysian media by the governing coalition, as well as a 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,” he said.
Dr Houghton has published an op-ed in New Mandala on the project's findings ('Malaysian Media: Watchdog or Running Dog?'), and is in the process of converting the study into an edited volume and journal articles.
Media Coverage of the Project:
'Something rotten in Najib's Best Democracy' (Malaysiakini) 19/11/13
Local Varsities Passing Out Journalists Who Don't Ask 'Why', Tribunal Told (The Malaysian Insider) 21/09/13
Anwar is Utusan Fave but Portals Love Najib (Malaysiakini) 18/09/13
CIJ Critical of GE13 Coverage (The Star) 17/09/13
'Media Bias Keeps M'sia in Neo-Authoritarian State' (Malaysiakini) 17/09/13
Bernama Led 'Media Attack' on Pakatan in GE13 (Malaysiakini) 17/09/13
Bernama Led Anti-Pakatan Blitz in GE13, Survey Shows (The Malaysian Insider) 17/09/13
GE13 Coverage: PR Gets Major But Not Good News Coverage (FZ.com) 17/09/13
Another Day in Media Paradise (Al Jazeera) 4/05/13
Will Elections in Malaysia Be Free or Fair? (Al Jazeera) 4/05/13
GE13: Malaysia's Media Falls In Line (Asian Correspondent) 4/05/13
Media Watchdog: Mainstream Media Favours BN (KiniTV) 3/05/13
Media Under Pressure as Need to Control Info Rises (Malaysiakini) 3/05/13
Study Reveals Media Bias in Malay Election (ABC: Newsline) 3/05/13
GE13: CIJ Says Media Being Abused in Election Coverage (FZ.com/Yahoo News) 3/05/13
Muhyiddin Yassin Scores Top Points in 'Attack' Politics (Yahoo News) 3/05/13
Balanced Free Media... In Malaysia? (BFM Radio & Podcast) 3/05/13
Mainstream Media Coverage 'Biased': Watchdog (ABC) 2/05/13
Nurul is Top Woman in Media Coverage (Free Malaysia Today) 1/05/13
The Week In Review: Epic Fail for the 4th Estate? (BFM Radio & Podcast) 27/4/13
Muhyiddin Tops in Attacking Opponents, Study Shows (Malaysiakini) 26/4/13
As Campaigning Ramps Up, Malaysia 'Likes' Instant Media (The Irrawaddy) 26/4/13
Malaysian TV, Newspapers, Favour Ruling Party, Study Finds (The Wall Street Journal) 25/4/13
Tech Talk with Digital News Asia: Media Watchdog (BFM Radio & Podcast) 25/4/13
Instant Media's Got Malaysia (Asia Sentinel) 25/04/13
Watching the Watchdog: Analysis of Media Coverage of Malaysian Election (IFEX) 24/4/13
Study: Online Media Most Even-Handed Polls Coverage (Malaysiakini) 24/4/13
Online Has Most Balanced GE13 Coverage: Media Watchdog (Digital News Asia) 23/4/13
Big Brother Has Left the Room (BFM Radio & Podcast) 20/4/13
GE13: Eyes on the Media (Digital News Asia) 5/4/13
Watch on Watchdogs During GE13 Campaign (Malaysiakini) 12/6/12
CIJ to Monitor GE13 Coverage (Free Malaysia Today) 12/6/12
Watching the Watchdog: CIJ Launches GE13 Media Monitoring Project (BFM) 13/6/12
Mediated Politics in Malaysia:
Google Malaysia GE13 Portal (with Pilihanraya website as a featured 'Citizen Resource')
GE13: Online Petition Calls for Free and Fair Media Access (fz.com) 10/4/13