Interview with Malaysia Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the PMO Putrajaya

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad congratulates media over improved ranking in the latest World Press Freedom Index

Following the country’s ascension in the latest World Press Freedom Index rankings, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took to Instagram on Fri (3 May) to congratulate Malaysian media for the improved ranking.

Malaysia rose by 22 places at the 123rd spot this year, with a decrease of 10.67 points from 36.74 points last year. A lower score indicates greater press freedom.

RSF cited the political upheaval on 9 May last year as the reason behind Malaysia’s improved score.

It noted that while press freedom has received “a breath of fresh air in Malaysia after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition suffered a surprising defeat in the May 2018 general elections”, the Malaysian government now still has, at hand, “a draconian legislative arsenal with which to suppress media freedom, an arsenal that includes the 1948 Sedition Act, the 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,” cautioned RSF.

Nonetheless, it added that “Mahathir has kept his promise to repeal the Orwellian provisions of the anti-fake news law adopted by the outgoing government”, and that press freedom in Malaysia in general has shown marked improvement within such a short span of time.

“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.

“The general environment for journalists is much more relaxed, self-censorship has declined dramatically and the print media are now offering a fuller and more balanced range of viewpoints including support for the new ruling coalition led by Dr Mahathir, and support for the old ruling coalition, now in opposition,” said RSF.

It added that Malaysia’s improved score points at “the degree to which political change can radically transform the climate for journalists, and how a country’s political ecosystem can directly affect press freedom”.

The Index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists, and acts as “a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region”.