This research study investigated the conceptions of press freedom from the Islamic perspective. It examined how certain segments of Malaysian society, including government officers, religious leaders, members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of political parties, perceive press freedom in their country. Compared to previous studies on media freedom or press freedom in Malaysia, this study offered a comprehensive analysis of variables significantly related to the conceptualisation and practice of press freedom, which include economic development, information and communication technologies (ICTs) and globalisation. One significant difference between this study and previous studies was the specific examination of Islamic conceptions of press freedom, which represents a major contribution to existing knowledge. As Malaysia is a complex multi-racial and multi-religious nation, factors such as national ideologies and cultural values were addressed when examining conceptions of press freedom.
Due to the focus of the study, two types of framework were utilised: an Islamic theoretical framework and media theories developed by Western scholars. Methodologically, this study employed an ethnographic approach for analysing Islamic conceptualisations of press freedom. A combination of three qualitative research techniques - in-depth face-to-face interviews, examination of archival documents, and personal observations - was utilised to investigate the issues identified in relation to perceptions of press freedom in Malaysia. In-depth face-to-face interviews involved the participation of staff and members from ten organisations and individuals who were not affiliated with these organisations. The organisations involved in this study were: Ministry of Internal Security Malaysia (MOIS); Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM); Islamic Da’wah Foundation Malaysia (YADIM); Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM); Pertubuhan Jamaah Islah Malaysia (JIM); Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ); Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM); Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), People’s Justice Party (PKR); and Puteri UMNO. The archival documents analysed in this study were gathered from these ten organisations. However, due to certain organisational policies and security concerns, personal observations were only conducted at eight organisations, IKIM, YADIM, ABIM, JIM, CIJ, SUARAM, PAS and PKR. The data were analysed using thematic analysis. The results of the data analysis were triangulated to ascertain the extent to which the information obtained was consistent or inconsistent across sources.
The findings of the study showed that there were diverse views among respondents on what constitutes an Islamic press freedom in a multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia. Due to the different levels of Islamic understanding and divergent interpretations of Islam among Muslims, especially among members of political parties, this study also found that the Islamic theory of press freedom is a highly contested concept. More often than not, the respondents of these organisations claimed that Islamic conceptualisations of press freedom should be based on their personal versions of Islam.