How press freedom is curbed in Malaysia

A government worth its salt should find ways to promote press freedom. Not seek means to curb it. 

(TMI) – IN defending Malaysia’s recent press freedom ranking drop in the 2024 World Press Freedom report, Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil argued that the Malaysian government, unlike the Israeli regime, did not kill people.

This was his response to Bersatu leader Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who pointed out that Malaysia even ranked lower than the Zionist state, which is now well-known for its blatant violation of human rights and humanitarian laws.

Malaysia is ranked this year by Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) at 107th place while Israel is at 101. This is an abysmal drop for Malaysia from 73rd place out of 180 countries that was recorded last year.

To be clear, the Zionist state had killed to date 142 Palestinian journalists as a brutal way of curbing critical reportage of the Israeli genocidal onslaught.

Apart from the recent Israeli shutdown of global media outlet Al Jazeera, Western broadcasting networks, particularly CNN, have their reporting on Israel and Palestine vetted by Israeli military censors.

Indeed, the above cases are glaring examples of how Israel brazenly and violently suppressed press freedom, which, in turn, had made sceptics to wonder whether the US’ client state should have been ranked a spot lower than it is currently placed.

Be that as it may, this should not distract us from the fact that press freedom and freedom of expression can also be muzzled in ways that are relatively subtle but are no less pernicious and punitive.

Take the existing colonial relic of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), which was supposed to have been repealed according to a reformist electoral promise.

Under this law, anyone who wants to publish a newspaper, magazine or other periodicals would have to apply for a permit.

Similarly, a printer would have to secure a printing licence from the Home Ministry before he or she can use the printer to print a large amount of copies.

Newspaper owners, as well as editors, who have invested large sums of money in the publishing enterprises are likely to tread carefully so as not to ruffle the feathers of the powers-that-be.

Otherwise, they may run the risk of having their publishing permits and printing licences revoked or suspended – and losing money as a result. Put another way, censorship rears its ugly head.

The pressure to stay away from “harm’s way” has given rise to the hideous culture of self-censorship among journalists. The overly cautious among them might be tempted to draw a line that they imagine the authorities would prefer.

Self-censorship takes on a life of its own so that the government appears to keep a comfortable distance from the running of a publication. A mirage of press freedom.


It can also result in dissenting voices being marginalised in the media that would constantly look over their shoulders.

The PPPA had also been used last year to raid a bookstore and confiscate a few books the government presumably considered “dangerous” or “unsuitable”. This act infringed on freedom of expression.

Even wrist watches were not spared from confiscation if they are thought to convey certain “dangerous” meanings, as exemplified by the raids on Swatch watches last year.

To be sure, some laws are defined so broadly or vaguely that critics fear this could lead to abuse.

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