Decline in Press Freedom Index: Media must be concerned

MALAYSIA recently took the unenviable title of dropping the furthest in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index after falling 18 spots to number 119 (out of 180 countries ranked).

Despite the severity of the headline, the rating didn’t come as much of a surprise, although it is a matter of grave concern for the media industry as a whole.

This is given the county’s political turmoil since the Perikatan Nasional (PN) Government came to power in March 2020, and the subsequent adoption of a so-called ‘anti-fake news’ decree, which enabled the authorities to impose their own version of the truth.

What’s more worrying is the fact that amid the ongoing crackdown on media for their reporting, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the laws that stifle press freedom are still in place and are being used against journalists and media agencies.

Last year, for instance, several journalists and media agencies were investigated and subjected to legal action by the state for their critical reporting, dissenting views or platform.

High-profile cases include that of Channel News Asia Malaysia bureau chief Melissa Goh, CodeBlue editor-in-chief Boo Su-Lyn, as well as Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan, to name a few.

What is this, if not a deliberate and concerted series of actions that are organised with the intention of stifling media freedom?

Earlier this week, multiple journalists’ groups have handed a memorandum to the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (KKMM) to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3. The memorandum called for a stop to attacks on the media and supporting independent journalism.

The memorandum highlighted five critical issues, including economic viability of the media, the health and safety of the media, restrictions of access for reporting, media crackdowns, and the use of repressive laws to silence the media.

If anything, the drop in the rating indicates the Government’s success in deploying their intimidation and fear tactics, which are now possibly contributing to a more suppressed media that is less inclined to step out of line and be overly critical in reporting.

This must not be allowed to go on. A democratic nation must ensure freedom for journalists to carry out their duties in delivering news, and freedom for members of the public to gain access to accurate, reliable and timely information.

As such, the Government must act accordingly to restore media freedom, and to abolish the emergency ordinance on fake news. It is only when journalism be allowed to practice without fear or favour that the public can obtain information that is accurate and unbiased.

If that happens, maybe there would come a day when we would no longer need an anti-fake news decree. – May 9, 2021

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