Canons of Journalism – the forgotten and unlamented Malaysian version

Gobind Rudra (uppercaise)

In the late 1970s, when Malaysian journalism managed occasionally to be an arm’s-length partner of the Malaysian establishment (and, unlike today, not openly romping in bed with it), there was an earnest bunch of editors who got together and conjured up the Canons of Journalism.

I didn’t subscribe to it then, and I certainly will not subscribe to it today although, to be fair, parts of it are excellent, as the actress said to the bishop.

The Canons are reflective of the mood of the times, its high-minded tone and pomposity the result of much sucking on one’s pipe and of course, then as now, sucking up to the powers-that-be. It remains very much a pipe dream if its creators had hoped to see journalists clutching it to their hearts and reciting it while brushing their teeth every morning.

Honest working journalists hooted in derision and carried on. The others merely carried on, in sublime ignorance.

Here is the code for what it’s worth. (Not much, to be honest).

The pompous Malaysian Canons of Journalism
as dreamt up by card-carrying members of the
establishment and other fellow travellers


Whereas the Malaysian Press reiterates its belief in the principles of Rukunegara and the national aspirations contained therein;

  • It acknowledges its role in contributing to the process of nation-building.
  • It recognises its duty to contribute fully to the promotion of racial harmony and national unity.
  • It recognises communism, racialism and religious extremism as grave threats to national well-being and security.
  • It believes in a liberal, tolerant, democratic society and in the traditional role of a free and responsible Press serving the people by faithfully reporting facts without fear or favour.
  • It believes that a credible press is an asset to the nation.
  • It believes in upholding standards of social morality.
  • It believes that there must be no restrictions on the entry of Malaysians into the profession.
  • It believes that the Press has a duty to contribute to the formation of public policy.

Whereas the Malaysian Press does hereby adhere to the following Canons of Journalism:

  • The primary responsibility of the Malaysian journalist is to report facts accurately and faithfully and to respect the right of the public to the truth.
  • In pursuant of this duty he shall uphold the fundamental freedom in the honest collection of news and the right to fair comment and criticism.
  • He shall use only proper methods to obtain news, photographs/films and documents.
  • It shall be his duty to rectify and publish information found to be incorrect.
  • He shall respect the confidentiality of the source of information.
  • He shall uphold standards of morality in the performance of his duties and shall avoid plagiarism, calumny or slander, libel, sedition, unfounded accusations or acceptance of bribe in any form.
  • He shall avoid publication of news or reports, communal or extremist in nature, or contrary to the moral value of multiracial Malaysia.
  • It shall be incumbent upon him to understand public and national policies pertaining to the profession.

It is remarkable that the Press is regarded as an object “It” and not a body of journalists. Not unremarkably the body of journalists, lacking antibodies, rebuffed “It” as a cancerous virus.

It is also remarkable that, after two Whereases in testament to pompous beginnings, the document trails off inconclusively at the end. No stirring final paragraph beginning with “Now therefore do we…” or some such construct? No stirring final paragraph attesting to the drafters’ pledge of honour? Not even so much as a simper?

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