Press Freedom

By Hakim Joe

Has anybody ever tabulated, or even tried tabulating the number of times a member of the public has been disallowed to express his or her views or the number of incidents where such a person has been censored or incarcerated for doing so? 

No? Well, the people working in the print and publishing media has and this is exhibited in their annual report which is called the “Press Freedom Index” which was started by Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) way back in 2002. 

RWB compiles their Index through a questionnaire that they send to partner organizations worldwide and also to their 130 correspondents. This questionnaire is also sent to jurists, human rights activists, journalists, researchers and to anyone who is involved in news gathering and organizations that supports the freedom of speech. A system whereby 100-points are given to the worst offender, this Index lists the countries with their positions (rankings) from the least points to the most. One can log into RWB’s website or Wikipedia to view the results. 

As with most Malaysians, we are only interested in where we stand as compared to our ASEAN neighbors and you would be surprised at the results. Malaysia obtained 39.5 points during the 2008 survey and was ranked 132 out of the total of 173 countries. Compared to our ASEAN neighbors of which Indonesia (27 points) fared the best at position 111 and Myanmar (94.38 points) fared the worst at position 170, we can safely assume that we are neither the best nor the worst in Southeast Asia. What remains unspoken though is that since 2005, no ASEAN countries were ranked at the top half of the Index. (Brunei was not included in the Index since 2003) 

A look at the Index will also show that three ASEAN members have remained on the “worst” list since its inception and they are Myanmar (military dictatorship), Laos (communism) and Vietnam (communism). Singapore (parliamentary democracy) isn’t that far behind these “baddies” and it can be said that Singapore’s concept of Freedom of Speech is even worse than Malaysia as they have never ranked better than Malaysia and never ranked higher than the 140th position (2005). Of all the ASEAN countries, Cambodia (multi-party democracy) has consistently ranked as the ASEAN member with the best results. Thailand (constitutional monarchy) is subsequently slipping and Indonesia (democratic republic) is rapidly improving after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came to power. 

While the Index may not accurately reflect the actual state of affairs of a country, nonetheless it is indicative of just how press freedom is controlled and censored by the sitting governments of each participating nation. Regionally-wise, Europe remains on top whilst Asian countries linger at the bottom. Even quite a few African countries (Namibia – 23rd, Ghana & Mali – 31st, Cape Verde & South Africa – 36th, Togo – 53rd, Burkina Faso – 63rd, Botswana – 66th, Benin, Malawi & Tanzania – 70th, Zambia & Seychelles – 74th, Guinea-Bissau – 81st, Central African Republic – 85th and Senegal – 86th) remain inside the top half of the index as opposed to not even one ASEAN nation. 

On the electronic media front, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam all have full government censored internet access. Malaysia is also currently placed in RWB’s watch list. 

The full list of the RWB Press Freedom Index can be viewed at