The information conveyance conundrum: Reevaluating Malaysia’s approach in the digital epoch

BY: By: Dr Ahmad Zaharuddin Sani Ahmad Sabri

At the inception of Malaysia’s communication infrastructure, bodies like the Department of Information were conceived with a vision of bridging the chasm between government initiatives and public awareness. However, as this narrative unfolds, it becomes evident that the original mandate of these bodies became ensnared in the web of political maneuvering and the quagmire of inefficiency that plagued governmental operations. The metamorphosis of these entities into instruments of political partisanship, rather than beacons of unbiased information, marks a critical misstep in their evolutionary trajectory.

JASA: A Misguided Venture?

JASA’s establishment and operations stand as a stark exemplar of the pitfalls of politicizing information dissemination. Ostensibly created to facilitate better communication between the government and the populace, JASA instead veered into the territory of propagating a one-sided narrative, serving more as a political mouthpiece than an impartial conveyor of information. The allocation of substantial funds towards JASA, juxtaposed against its controversial utility, spotlights a glaring misallocation of resources that could have otherwise fostered a more enlightened and engaged citizenry.

JKOM: A Step Forward or Stagnation in Disguise?

With the transition to JKOM, the Malaysian government seemingly embarked on a journey of redemption, aiming to rectify the tarnished legacy of its predecessors. However, the specter of past inefficacies and biases looms large, raising doubts about the possibility of meaningful transformation. Engulfed in ambiguity, JKOM’s mission and efficacy in heralding a new era of transparent and balanced governmental communication remain subjects of skepticism.

The ‘Little Napoleon’ Syndrome and Its Reverberations

The persistence of ‘little Napoleons’—figures emblematic of authoritarian impulses within these informational agencies—sabotages efforts towards fostering a culture of transparency and accountability. This autocratic bent not only stifles internal dissent but also casts a long shadow over these institutions’ credibility and functionality, perpetuating a cycle of distrust and misinformation.

Reimagining Information in the Modern Milieu

As we propel into the digital age, the modalities of information dissemination are inevitably transformed, demanding a reevaluation of how governmental information should be conveyed. The ascent of social media and digital platforms as primary sources of information necessitates a nuanced understanding of their dynamics and an agile adaptation strategy.

  1. Digital Literacy and Engagement: In the modern world, effective communication is predicated on digital savviness—both on the part of the government and the citizenry. A proactive approach involves not only disseminating information but also engaging in dialogue, leveraging platforms where public discourse is vibrant and diverse.
  2. Transparency and Accountability in the Digital Arena: The transition to digital platforms offers unparalleled opportunities for transparency. Real-time updates, open data initiatives, and interactive feedback mechanisms can significantly enhance the accountability and responsiveness of governmental bodies.
  3. Combating Misinformation: In the age of information overload, the battle against misinformation becomes paramount. Governmental agencies must assume the dual role of information providers and fact-checkers, employing sophisticated digital tools to curb the spread of falsehoods.
  4. Inclusivity and Accessibility: Ensuring that information is accessible to all segments of the population, including those with disabilities and those in remote areas, is fundamental. This involves not just technological solutions but also language and content that are inclusive and comprehensible to the layperson.

Towards a Constructive Synthesis

The reformation of Malaysia’s information delivery system demands a foundation built on the principles of digital modernity, transparency, and inclusivity. This necessitates not only a reformation of structures but also a deep-seated cultural shift within these institutions. The formidable challenge lies not just in the adoption of new technologies but in the cultivation of a new ethos—a genuine commitment to serving the public’s right to know.

Integration with Global Best Practices

Looking beyond national confines, integrating with global best practices offers valuable insights. Countries heralded for their transparent governance have leveraged technology not just for efficiency but as a fundamental principle of democratic engagement. Malaysia’s path forward involves learning from such models, tailored to its unique socio-political context.

A Call for Epochal Change

The historical arc of Malaysia’s information delivery system—from the noble aspirations of the Department of Information to the tumultuous transitions marked by JASA and into the current era under JKOM—charts a complex landscape. This journey, emblematic of broader governance challenges, underscores a pressing need for systemic reform and ethical recalibration. As Malaysia steps further into the digital age, the imperative to cultivate a transparent, accountable, and inclusive information dissemination framework becomes undeniable. Achieving this calls for a comprehensive overhaul that not only embraces technological advancements but also reinvigorates the foundational ethos of public service.

Central to this paradigm shift must be the strategic selection and appointment of individuals at the helm of JKOM or any future information-related entities. Leadership in these critical roles cannot be predicated on political loyalty or expedience; rather, the criterion must pivot to demonstrable expertise in communication, a deep understanding of digital and traditional media landscapes, and, crucially, a commitment to the principles of transparency, public engagement, and democracy. The leaders must not only grasp the conventional objectives of these departments but also envision their roles in fostering a well-informed society that can navigate the complexities of the modern information ecosystem.

Moreover, these leaders should exhibit the integrity and courage to resist the ‘little Napoleon’ syndrome, ensuring their teams are empowered to execute their duties without undue influence or interference. It is through such steadfast leadership that these entities can transcend their historical limitations and controversies, transforming into robust pillars of a governance model that prioritizes the dissemination of accurate, timely, and impartial information.

Equally important is the engagement with stakeholders across the spectrum—civil society, media organizations, academia, and the tech sector—to co-create solutions that address the multifaceted challenges of misinformation, digital divide, and public distrust. By fostering a collaborative environment, Malaysia can harness collective expertise and insights, ensuring that its information delivery systems are not only responsive to the needs of the day but are also resilient in the face of future challenges.

In essence, the path to rejuvenating Malaysia’s information delivery system is contingent upon a commitment to ethical governance, characterized by leadership integrity, stakeholder engagement, and an unwavering dedication to serving the public interest.

By embedding these principles at the core of its information-related entities, Malaysia can aspire to a future where the flow of information strengthens, rather than undermines, the fabric of its democratic society. This is not merely a call for incremental changes but a clarion call for a transformative approach that aligns Malaysia’s information delivery system with the ideals of a modern, informed, and participatory democracy.

The author is an independent political analyst who happens to be the last director general of JASA.

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