Backsliding Reformists: Malaysia’s Government Revives Crackdown on Media Freedoms

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is using the same repressive tools against his opponents that were used against his party during its years in opposition.

Daniel Kam, The Diplomat

In the run-up to state elections last month, Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition blocked access to four pro-opposition media sites, a stark reversal of policy for the coalition that toppled Malaysia’s authoritarian regime in 2018 and helped Malaysia become the most democratic country in Southeast Asia, according to The Economist. But in the face of an increasingly populist opposition, PH has lost the liberal optimism of its youth, and these recent crackdowns betray the fragility of Malaysia’s democracy.

On June 27, 15 days before the six state elections, local internet service providers (ISPs) inexplicably blocked access to the pro-opposition news outlet MalaysiaNow. Over the next three weeks, the same fate befell UtusanTV, Malaysia Today, TV Pertiwi, and the blog of former politician Wee Choo Keong.

According to MalaysiaNow, users trying to access these sites were redirected to an IP address belonging to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). None of the websites received any warning or clarification of cause, and even today it remains unclear which exact articles attracted MCMC’s attention. While the bans on Malaysia Today and UtusanTV were lifted within a few days, Malaysia Today, TV Pertiwi and Wee Choo Keong’s blog remain inaccessible to most Malaysians, long after the conclusion of the state elections.

But both MCMC and its supervisory Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Commission refused to comment on the matter. Instead, Minister of Communications Fahmi Fadzil denied any directive to ban the website. “I believe the media should be free and I have given no instruction to MCMC to block anyone,” he stated in early August. “If police reports or complaints are lodged by the public, MCMC has their own power.”

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