KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — Malaysia was ranked poorly at 142nd out of 199 countries in US-based NGO Freedom House’s media freedom survey for 2014, earning a score of just 65 in the free media index, which categorises the press here as “not free”.
According to the survey, Malaysia shared its rank with Pakistan and Turkey, two countries known for their poor human rights records.
Ironically, countries known for their restrictive laws like Myanmar made significant leaps in the survey.
Malaysia’s neighbour Indonesia similarly fared better, taking 97th spot with a score of 49.
Singapore, however, was also categorised as “not free” like Malaysia, registering a score of 67, which placed the island state in the 148th spot.
Each country or territory is given the press freedom score from 0 (best) to 100 (worst) on the basis of 23 methodology questions, which were divided into three sub-categories: economic environment, political environment and legal environment.
According to Freedom House, 2014 was a bad year for press freedom worldwide, noting a downward trend in most nations.
It added that this year’s decline in press freedom was the steepest.
“The steepest declines worldwide relate to two factors: the passage and use of restrictive laws against the press — often on national security grounds — and the ability of local and foreign journalists to physically access and report freely from a given country, including protest sites and conflict areas,” it said in the report.
In Malaysia, the Najib administration has tightened security laws that human rights groups and opposition leaders say could effectively silence dissent on the grounds of “national security”.
Recently, Parliament passed amendments to the Sedition Act that would allow for prolonged detention for those arrested for sedition. Calls for the definition of sedition in the law to be amended for specificity were ignored.
Critics of the law have argued that the broad definition of what constitutes sedition gave the government indefinite powers to silence detractors from raising issues deemed detrimental to the Barisan Nasional government’s image.
The use of the Sedition Act spiked recently with dozens of activists and opposition lawmakers arrested under the law just as the Najib administration faced serious allegations of power abuse and corruption.