On World Press Freedom Day, Dr M praises Malaysian media over improved index rankings

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters during a press conference at Al-Bukhary Foundation in Kuala Lumpur April 19, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks to reporters during a press conference at Al-Bukhary Foundation in Kuala Lumpur April 19, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad commended the local media industry for improving its ranking in the World Press Freedom index this year.

In a post on his Instagram account @chedetofficial, Dr Mahathir extended his thanks and congratulations.

“We jumped 22 places to be the top in South-east Asia and 123rd in the world (out of 180 countries),” he said.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) which operates the index, said the general environment for journalists is far more relaxed, with a dramatic decline in self-censorship, and the press offering a fuller and more balanced range of political viewpoints in support of the Pakatan Harapan (BN) government, as well as the BN Opposition coalition.

“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,” it said on its profile for Malaysia.

Describing the press freedom as a “breath of fresh air” following BN’s shocking defeat in last year’s general elections, the organisation said Dr Mahathir has kept his promise to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 which was promulgated by the old administration.

But RWB is also critical of the retention of certain legislations stifling press freedom, which it described as ‘archaic’.

“However, the authorities still have a draconian legislative arsenal with which to suppress media freedom, an arsenal that includes the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972, and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

“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,” it said.

So long as these laws remain as they are, the organisation said, they pose a constant threat to media personnel, who still cannot express themselves with complete freedom, despite all the progress.

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