KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 — Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has sounded the alarm on Malaysia’s drop in a global press freedom ranking, saying the media is facing a “grave” situation now.

Following Malaysia’s dismal ranking in the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2021 Press Freedom Index, Anwar laid the blame with Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s more authoritarian administration and disregard for the press.

“The service provided by a free and open press are paramount for the functioning of our democracy. Our leaders’ reckless regard for the press not only affirms some of our worst assumptions about the PN government, but also adds insult to the injuries they have committed against the people, disregarding their mandate last year.

“The secondary and tertiary effects of these selfish actions continue to demote Malaysia’s position internationally which will hinder the economic recovery we desperately need and have future investors and partners looking elsewhere for business and collaboration,” he said in a statement.

Yesterday, RSF’s 2021 Press Freedom Index saw Malaysia dropping 18 steps down to the rank of 119 out of 180 countries scored.

In comparison, Malaysia had showed the greatest improvement in the same index in 2020 under the Pakatan Harapan government, with its improvement of leaping 22 spots to 101st the biggest jump globally.

RSF noted that the renewal of the Special Affairs Department, which they label as government propaganda, and the fact that the Sedition Act 1948, Official Secrets Act 1972, and Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 remain at the disposal of the government to use against journalists as a hindrance against press freedom in Malaysia.

Anwar said this proved the return of a “more authoritarian rule” by PN which was made worse by the announcement of the Emergency Declaration in January this year.

“Most recently, aggressive actions taken under the hospices of the Emergency Declaration, last January, look to see us further downgraded in 2021. This is an ultimate and destructive irony as the purpose of Emergency is to maintain the nation and fight the spread of Covid-19 which they have categorically failed to do, based on the present state of affairs.

“The effects of such slights against the Fourth Estate are most grave,” he said.

Malaysia had improved considerably in the 2020 edition and 2019 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, with a considerably higher ranking and managing to have a reduced global score as compared to previous years. A lower score indicates a better situation.

The RSF’s World Press Freedom Index is based on qualitative analysis of six criteria — pluralism of opinions represented in the media; media independence; media environment and self-censorship; the impact of the legislative framework governing news and information activities; transparency of institutions and procedures affecting news production and information; and the quality of infrastructure supporting news production — coupled with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the previous year.