Exploring the media landscape in Kuala Lumpur

The notion of freedom of the press often inspires animated discussion in Canada.  What is it like in other parts of the world?

Three Media and the Public Interest (MPI) students will get a chance to find out this summer when they go on internship with the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

MalaysiaThird-year MPI students Kyla Garvey, Emily Fister and Francine Navarro will spend several months between May and September living and working in the Southeast Asian country.  In their work with the CIJ, all three will witness firsthand the friction that can exist between media and governing bodies.

“Malaysia is a ‘soft democracy,’ meaning that while it appears to be a developed nation with democratic rights, the government still controls the media,” explains Fister. “This summer, I hope to take away a new perspective on the media world and the idea of press freedom. The tension between government and civic communication astounds me.”

Navarro echoes that sentiment, mentioning that the trip may allow for some rich and unique learning opportunities.

“There may be an election while we’re in Malaysia, so I really hope we get the chance to observe the strategies that political parties use in a heavily censored and state-controlled media environment,” she says.

The spur for this trip came out of FIMS Associate Professor Sandra Smeltzer’s “Alternative Media” class.  Students sat in on a presentation from a former CIJ intern who described the media landscape from her personal experience.  Fister explains that it was the passion with which the former intern spoke, and her description of the dire need for change that inspired her.

“After some more research, I realized that Malaysia is a fascinating political soap opera—and a social justice journalist’s dream.”

Garvey is looking forward to applying her practical and theoretical skills to whatever sort of work is required.  She says that she and her fellow interns will likely each bring a different set of skills to the table and will be able to contribute to the goals of the CIJ in their own way.  Garvey is also hoping that the trip will open her eyes to possibilities.

“I am hoping to learn about everything and anything I can. I am excited to learn about the business of an NGO and what it’s like to work with one; hopefully it will answer some questions I have about the direction of my future and career,” she says.

All three students feel that they can contribute solid writing and analytical skills to their work.  Garvey appreciates the opportunity to engage personally with people, while Fister sees the trip as a chance to gain valuable hands-on experience to complement her MPI degree.  Navarro is hoping, among other things, for the chance to employ her graphic design skills in some way.

Malaysia“I hope to form lasting friendships and learn some Malay, but above all, I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn from people who are politically minded, socially conscious, and dedicated to their work,” says Navarro.

Garvey notes that though she and her co-interns have already had fun, excited conversations about the trip with Professor Smeltzer, she knows that the best is likely yet to come.

“The more I found out about the country, its history, people, politics, and geography the more I wanted to know, and the more excited I became to go. Every now and then I get bursts of excitement but it still hasn’t hit me yet.”

Garvey and Fister will be in Kuala Lumpur between May 6 and September 4.  Navarro will join them on June 6, and return on September 1.  They will be following in the footsteps of numerous other FIMS students who have participated in this internship before them.  Funding assistance is being provided through Professor Smeltzer’s recent Western Humanitarian Award and the FIMS Internship/Exchange Travel Fund.