Unchanged media environment eyed in drop in world press freedom ranking

[The following is a statement from the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), SEAPA’s associate member based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]

Malaysia’s drop in world press freedom ranking unsurprising given unchanged legal environment

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) notes with no surprise Malaysia’s slippage in the World Press Freedom Index created by Reporters Without Borders, from a score of 44.25 (2009) to 50.75, which places us 10 notches down to a ranking of 141 out of 178 countries. 

More pertinent is the fact that Malaysia has been in the bottom third almost without fail in the past 10 years, thanks to the unchanged legal and regulatory framework with regard to freedom of expression, which includes media freedom.

On top of the Big Five restrictive laws that highly impact media – the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), Sedition Act, Defamation Act, Official Secrets Act (OSA) and Internal Security Act (ISA) – newer laws such as the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 is increasingly used against critical online expression as more people turn to the freer and more accessible platform that is the Internet to seek, receive and impart information. Also, a little-known provision in the Securities Commission Act 1993 that can severely compromise the work of journalists was exposed this year following a controversial interrogation of journalists over a fraud investigation by the Commission in June.

So when you have a public that is increasingly emboldened to exercise their right to freedom of expression – particularly after the pivotal 2008 general election – with the media responding accordingly despite facing the usual constraints, threats against media would inevitably follow.

This year has been fraught with show-cause letters and police reports; the suspension, sacking or resignation of journalists and media personnel over censorship issues; interrogation of journalists by the authorities; and continued problems with the publishing permit, whether it is in the annual renewal, implementation or application.

And these are only the reported cases. Self-censorship is an unceasing problem that remains unreported because of all these factors.

If there is to be any meaningful improvement for media freedom, there has to be significant legal changes. Since the political environment is heating up with the general election expected to be held next year, Malaysians must take this opportunity to demand from aspiring candidates that freedom of expression be made an election agenda.

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The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a non-profit organisation that aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all peoples will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek and impart information.

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