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Redeeming Malaysian journalism through the conscience clause: Part 1

July 27, 2013

By Bob Teoh

When I suggested the introduction of workplace reform to improve the ethical conduct of both journalists and media owners by incorporating a code of ethics together with the conscience clause as part of their employment contract, it was immediately greeted with skepticism by some.

Such skepticism is understandable given that Malaysian journalism has fallen from grace. Let’s face it, we have reached rock-bottom. In the current World Press Freedom ranking by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Malaysia has dropped 23 spots to a new low by ranking of 145 out of 179 countries.

Some take comfort that we are, after all, three steps ahead of Singapore. But this is no consolation considering Bangladesh, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei are better off than us. And if that’s not bad enough, Myanmar is fast catching up – it climbed 18 spots to No 151, just a whisker behind us.

Industry stakeholders especially journalists, media owners and the regulatory authorities need to redeem the profession at some point and the time is now. I was vindicated when a chief editor, who was present at a media ethics forum last Saturday where I mooted the conscience clause, stood up and said he would consider writing the conscience clause into the employment contracts for his journalists.

It’s no point asking journalist and their employers to stick to a code of ethical conduct if such undertaking is not backed up with the force of law. Bad journalists can get away with unethical behaviour while good ones who try to live up to high ethical standards only end up seeing their careers destroyed or prematurely terminated by employers who demand they undertake unethical work.

It’s not that Malaysia cannot produce good journalists. Many of those with high ethical conduct have managed to get jobs with CNN, Al Jazeera, Fleet Street and many more have emigrated to Australia. Many who are otherwise good but did make it overseas are buried in unmarked graves together their ethics intact.

The time has come for workplace reform. A mutually agreed code of ethics can be made contractually binding both on journalists and their employers as a term and condition governing their employment. It safeguards and balances the rights and obligations of parties. An employer can summarily dismiss a journalist for fundamental breach of ethics. Likewise, employers can be taken to task for ethical violation. An aggrieved journalist can appeal on grounds of wrongful dismissal or unfair labour practice through the usual process of industrial law. Read more at


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