Malaysia is now one of south-east Asia’s most vibrant economies and as a result the forthcoming general election is predicted to be the closest since independence from Britain 56 years ago.
In the run-up to polling day on Sunday 5 May a team of communications experts at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) are keeping a close eye on the performance of the country’s press to encourage fair coverage of this crucial election campaign.
Dr Tessa Houghton and Professor Zaharom Nain, from the Centre for the Study of Communications and Culture, are collaborating with the Malaysian Centre for Independent Journalism on a project called: ‘Watching the Watchdog’; Media Monitoring the 13th General Election. The project has put together a team of around 70 research assistants or ‘coders’ who are in the process of gathering data from the most popular and influential media across Malaysia.
The academic ‘watch-dogs’ are gauging the media’s treatment of political figures and parties as well as key issues in a general election which could herald a turning point in the country’s political landscape. The aim is to encourage better performance in providing access to information and a platform for diverse views and voices.
Major test for ruling coalition
Malaysia’s 2013 general election is being seen as a major test for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition — made up of the United Malays National Organisation, the Malaysian Chinese Association, the Malaysian Indian Congress and a number of smaller parties. It has played a dominant role in Malaysian politics since independence in 1957. Mr Najib, a University of Nottingham alumnus, who was sworn in as Prime Minister four years ago will serve as caretaker prime minister until the elections.
Mr Najib is under pressure to return his coalition to its two-thirds majority. Although the polls suggest a narrow win for the Barisan Nasional it is under pressure from the opposition People’s Alliance party — a coalition of three parties — which has gained strong support in rural areas.
Opposition leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who once served as deputy prime minister under the Barisan Nasional but fell out with the former Prime Minister in 1998, is seen as one of the great survivors of Malaysian politics.
Monitoring all media
The media monitoring will encompass news articles and editorials in print, online and television, in the main four languages of Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. It will include public-funded media such as Bernama Online and RTM news. The monitoring exercise began on 6 April and will end two days after polling day.
Lead analyst Tessa Houghton, who had conducted media monitoring of the New Zealand elections in 2008 and has helped to design the quantitative methodology for the project, said: “A robust and independent media is crucial to any functioning democracy. The situation in Malaysia is far from perfect and this research will help inform other members of civil society and push for improvements.”
A final printed report will be released about six months after the election results, to be distributed to libraries and all stakeholders. It will include recommendations to improve coverage to media organisations, as well as suggestions to the Election Commission. It will be presented in a public forum and small consultations with the key stakeholders above.
Watching the Watchdog is part of a larger collaborative project with the National Institute for Electoral Integrity (NIEI) and Merdeka Centre entitled ‘Creating a Robust and Transparent Electoral Process in Malaysia.’
Data will be online
The project will release three medium-term and a comprehensive final report, and will host two press conferences to share the results. The first set of results were published today and can be viewed via a livestreamed Google hangout
. The next set of data will be released on Thursday, with more being published next week.
To keep up with ‘Watching the Watchdog’ go to:http://www.nottingham.edu.my/Modern-Languages/CentrefortheStudyofCommunicationsandCulture/Watching-the-Watchdog.aspx
Or follow the Centre for Independent Journalism on twitter @CIJ_Malaysia
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