KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 — Malaysia has climbed 21 places to rank 123rd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual World Press Freedom Index, following the shock results of the 14th general elections.
According to RSF, the improvement in Malaysia’s ranking was due to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition victory last year defeating Barisan Nasional (BN) which had ruled for six decades.
“Press freedom is receiving breath of fresh air in Malaysia after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition suffered a surprising defeat in the May 2018 general elections — its first defeat in modern Malaysian history.
“Journalists and media outlets that had been blacklisted, such as the cartoonist Zunar and the Sarawak Report investigative news website, have been able to resume working without fear of harassment,” said the report published today.
It added that the general environment for journalists is more relaxed and self-censorship has declined “dramatically” with the print media offering a more balanced range of viewpoints including the ability to print supporting articles across boths sides of the political divide.
Despite charting the biggest improvement in the region, Malaysia is still placed in the “difficult situation” group together with other neighbours in Southeast Asia.
Only Timor Leste performed better than others — jumping 11 places to 84th place, and placed in the slightly better “problematic situation group”.
In the region, Laos and Vietnam performed the worst. Both are in the bottom-most “very serious situation”.
Within the Southeast Asian region, Malaysia ranked the second after Timor Leste, with Indonesia coming next at 124th, Philippines (134th), Thailand (136th), Myanmar (138th), Cambodia (143rd), Singapore (151st), Brunei (152nd), Laos (171st), and Vietnam (176th).
🔴 #RSFIndex ¦ RSF has unveiled its 2019 World #PressFreedom Index:— RSF (@RSF_inter) April 18, 2019
33: United Kingdom🇬🇧
48: United States🇺🇸
179: North Korea🇰🇵
180: Turkmenistan🇹🇲https://t.co/eptg8OhCHR pic.twitter.com/E1wWwKb6mZ
The repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act by the current administration had also contributed to the country’s improvement in media freedom.
At the same time it also advised Putrajaya to repeal an “arsenal” of draconian legislation capable of suppressing the media including the 1948 Sedition Act, 1972 Official Secrets Act and the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act.
“Under these laws, which need a complete overhaul, the authorities have strict control over publication licences and journalists can be sentenced to 20 years in prison on sedition charges.
“They pose a constant threat to media personnel, who still cannot express themselves with complete freedom, despite all the progress,” said the report.
According to RSF, the index measures the degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries — determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire it devised.