Fresh air but archaic laws endure
Press freedom is receiving breath of fresh air in Malaysia after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition suffered a surprising defeat in the May 2018 general elections, its first defeat in modern Malaysian history. Journalists and media outlets that had been blacklisted, such as the cartoonist Zunar and the Sarawak Report investigative news website, have been able to resume working without fear of harassment. The general environment for journalists is much more relaxed, self-censorship has declined dramatically and the print media are now offering a fuller and more balanced range of viewpoints, including support for the new ruling coalition, and support for the old ruling coalition, now in opposition. The new government has kept its promise to repeal the Orwellian provisions of the anti-fake news law adopted by the outgoing government. But the authorities still have a draconian legislative arsenal with which to suppress media freedom, an arsenal that includes the 1948 Sedition Act, the 1972 Official Secrets Act and the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act. Under these laws, which need a complete overhaul, the authorities have strict control over publication licences and journalists can be sentenced to 20 years in prison on sedition charges. They pose a constant threat to media personnel, who still cannot express themselves with complete freedom, despite all the progress.
123 in 2019
36.74 in 2019