‘Freerer than S’pore, worse than Zimbabwe’

Malaysia’s press freedom ranking has improved, but experts say this is no reason for celebration.

(Free Malaysia Today) – Press freedom has improved in Malaysia, according to a report by French-based media NGO Reporters Sans Frontieres.

According to the 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index, Malaysia was ranked 124th (out of 179 countries) – a 17-place jump from 141 in 2010.

However, the better ranking is not seeing media observers here jump for joy.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) professor Azman Azwan Azmawati said it is “insulting” to know that the media-repressive Zimbabwe has better press freedom than Malaysia.

“Journalists should feel slightly better (this year), but they shouldn’t be jumping up and down… Even Zimbabwe is above us (in ranking), so don’t you feel insulted?

“(Malaysia’s current position) is not that far from 141… I wouldn’t get our hopes up, because even (though) 0.01% of progress is still progress, we can’t be extremely elated,” she told FMT.

Zimbabwe was ranked at 121, while Singapore was ranked at 135. Many of Malaysia’s neighbours also received poor marks, with Thailand at 137, the Philippines at 140 and Indonesia at 146.

Azman said that Malaysia’s better ranking may have been because of the government’s call to repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) – along with three emergency proclamations – in September last year.

The country, the USM don said, was also noticeably exempt from much of the political violence and human rights abuses rife around the world now.

Disabling environment

Even so, Azman said that Malaysia still has issues such as legal frameworks and freedom of information to deal with.

On the other hand, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) programme director Chuah Siew Eng said despite the better ranking, nothing has changed.

“Nothing has changed in the disabling environment in which our media operates. Not the laws, nor the ownership and control of media by political and corporate interests,” she said.

These factors, she claimed, helped to carry on a culture of self-censorship in Malaysia’s media.

Chuah reminded FMT that the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) chief Hata Wahari was sacked from Utusan Malaysia in mid-2011, after his criticism of the Umno-owned daily.