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Malaysia's press freedom rating plunges in first assessment under Anwar govt

Malaysia ranked behind Thailand, scores poorly in the latest press freedom index which rates 180 countries.

2 minute read
Malaysia's media freedom index under Anwar Ibrahim's government has taken a sharp drop, from 73 to 107, in the 2024 World Press Index.
Malaysia's media freedom index under Anwar Ibrahim's government has taken a sharp drop, from 73 to 107, in the 2024 World Press Index.

Malaysia has taken a record dip in the annual World Press Freedom Index, dropping 34 places from 73rd spot last year to 107th, in what might be seen as yet another damning indictment of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition despite their promises of reforms.

The annual index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which ranks media and journalistic freedom in 180 countries, also gave Malaysia a score of 52.07 compared to 62.83 last year.

In contrast, neighbouring Thailand improved its ranking from 106th to 87th, coming out tops in the Asean region.

The latest index is based on an assessment of the media landscape in 2023, a year which saw action taken against bloggers and the online media, making it the first evaluation of press freedom under Anwar's government.

Last year's index, based on the events of 2022, which was also an election year, saw Malaysia achieving its best ranking of 73rd from 113th the previous year, putting it ahead of its Asean neighbours. 

"The government exerts a great deal of political pressure to deter the media from tackling sensitive subjects or criticising politicians and government officials," RSF said in a note accompanying the latest index.

"The authorities are after investigative reporters, and the monarchy is an extremely sensitive subject, as are discussions on race and religion. Any form of commentary or reporting deemed critical of the monarchy can result in prosecution, leading to widespread self-censorship on the matter," it said in its overview of the media landscape.

The latest report comes as the government continues to block news websites and blogs and ask social media platforms to take down comments critical of it.

Earlier this year, Putrajaya admitted to making requests through the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) for platform providers like TikTok to delete certain videos. 

Shortly after coming to power in November 2022, the government threatened TikTok as it was unhappy over its wide use by opposition supporters.

Other platforms such as X, YouTube and Facebook have repeatedly refused the government's request to delete content, in line with their policy on free speech.

Since his appointment as minister in charge of media affairs, Fahmi Fadzil has come under criticism over action taken against media outlets.

In June last year, MalaysiaNow was blocked for 48 hours without any notice.

TV Pertiwi and Utusan TV had their websites blocked as well, in addition to a blog run by former MP Wee Choo Keong.

Last year, Wee was granted leave to file a judicial review against MCMC for blocking access to his blog.

The series of actions prompted RSF to warn Putrajaya against the government's crackdown on freedom of expression.

"RSF is very concerned by this wave of suspensions by Malaysian authorities, without any explanations or judicial control, of news websites critical of the government," RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau director Cedric Alviani said last September.