KUALA LUMPUR - The next general election will witness a milestone in the political landscape as the cabinet has agreed to allow all contesting parties to promote their manifestos on Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and private television stations.
Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said the decision was taken after a cabinet paper, relating to requests by political parties for equal airtime to promote their manifestos, received a nod from the ministers.
"Based on Article 10 of the Federal Constitution relating to the right and freedom of speech, the cabinet paper was accepted.
"Once Parliament is dissolved and the Election Commission announces the campaigning period, political parties will be allowed to promote their manifestos on RTM or other broadcasters."
He said this at the opening of Wisma Berita RTM and launch of RTM's news portal and digital archives at Angkasapuri here yesterday.
Present were Deputy Information, Communications and Culture Ministers Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum and Datuk Maglin Dennis D'Cruz as well as Media Prima chairman Datuk Johan Jaaffar.
Last month, the commission had raised the issue of giving all political parties access to broadcast media during campaigning.
The commission had requested airtime from the ministry, adding it was in line with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform's call to ensure all parties had access to the mass media.
Rais, however, did not state how much airtime would be given or the conditions that parties had to comply with to access the facility.
For now, he said, parties would be given limited time to explain their manifestos on a selected RTM channel.
RTM would make it obligatory that the parties adhere to a set of guidelines, as was done in other Commonwealth and advanced countries, or tailored to RTM's needs, he added.
"In England, BBC gives 10 to 15 minutes for parties to promote their election manifestos, which are subjected to internal conditions.
"It is the same in Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar, which have conditions acceptable to all political parties.
"Obviously, with this decision, questions will arise, and views will be forwarded.
"Nevertheless, the government will keep an open mind, but the bottom line is that the facility has to be structured and based on the concept of the nation's broadcasting sector," Rais said.
However, he said as a government broadcaster, RTM had to give priority to broadcasts related to the government and issues of importance to the people.