PM Anwar’s ‘“doesn’t matter’” comment on Malaysia’s fall in World Press Freedom Index is unacceptable & smacks of arrogance

Anwar’s claim that the fall in the index was because of government action on 3R issues is a deliberate distortion and false spin of the RSF report.

Zaid Malek, Lawyers for Liberty

We refer to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s statement yesterday dismissing Malaysia’s declining ranking in the World Press Freedom Index with a ‘doesn’t matter’ comment.

This response was embarrassing, dishonest and totally unacceptable. Coming from a sitting Prime Minister, it smacks of arrogance. It is the kind of response that one would expect from a leader of a banana republic.

In justifying the fall in the press index, Anwar trots out the now familiar 3R excuse. In fact, the real basis of RSF’s report on Malaysia was the blocking of news portals that are critical of the government such as Utusan TV, TV Pertiwi, MalaysiaNow etc. TikTok videos of government critics have also been blocked by the MCMC.

Hence, Anwar’s claim that the fall in the index was because of government action on 3R issues is a deliberate distortion and false spin of the RSF report.

It is also telling that in trying to justify the governments “tough action” against freedom of speech, Anwar cited the Bloomberg news regarding the purported casino project in Forest City, Johor. But in fact, public criticism in that matter was focused on the PM’s alleged involvement in talks on opening a casino, and not the King.

By using the Bloomberg news as an example, the PM exposes the government’s recent tactics in censoring the press and freedom of speech, by using the King as a convenient wall of defence for the government crackdown.

This cynical tactic of Anwar renders his claim that he upholds freedom of press entirely hollow. How can there be freedom of press when all criticism of the establishment is swept under the convenient category of 3R? He assumes the public is blind to this deceit, but it is plain for everyone to see. This is why the country’s press ranking has fallen under his prime-ministership.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech under article 10(1)(a), and this right includes the freedom of press. By smearing any criticism of the government as inciting racial hatred or stirring sentiments against the royal institution, the government is in effect making the right to free speech meaningless and illusory. This makes the government itself the biggest offender against the Constitution.

There is also no basis to discount Malaysia’s dwindling position as the lack of understanding of the Malaysian political context by RSF. This is a familiar excuse which was relied upon by the oppressive old BN governments for decades, and was once criticised by Anwar and PH when in opposition.

We urge the government to take seriously Malaysia’s downgrade in the World Press Freedom Index and to accept that it is caused by the increasing action in blocking or censoring critical press. It is not enough to claim that the government respects freedom of press; they must take proactive action to uphold freedom of press by not interfering with the crucial work of the media, as the fourth estate upholding democracy.


Zaid Malek
Lawyers for Liberty