LATEST UPDATE: FEBRUARY 12, 2014 10:47 AM
Malaysia’s press freedom index plunged to a historic low of 147 out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index released yesterday.
The result was described as “a shame and the worst setback to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s ‘best democracy in the world’ claim” by DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang.
Malaysia’s ranking was two spots below that of Myanmar’s in the annual index compiled by Reporters Without Border (RSF).
Last year, Malaysia was ranked 145 out of 179 countries, dropping 23 spots from the previous year.
In 2014, Malaysia fared worse than Brunei (117), Thailand (130), Indonesia (130), Cambodia (132) and Myanmar (145).
It, however, fared better than the Philippines (149), Singapore (150), Laos (171) and Vietnam (174).
Lim, who is also Gelang Patah MP, said Malaysia's ranking would have been worse if the government's latest move in supressing press freedom had been taken into account, referring to the Home Ministry's decision to reject publisher Edge Communications Sdn Bhd's application for a newspaper permit recently.
"Malaysia’s World Press Freedom Index would have been more abysmal, falling even behind Philippines and Singapore, if the government’s latest press freedom repression had been taken into account – the revocation of the publishing permit for FZ daily – just hours after the publisher The Edge Communications Sdn Bhd was granted leave to initiate proceedings against the Home Ministry for deferring its initial approval of the permit," he added.
The ministry had previously also suspended news weekly The Heat in December for allegedly not informing it of changes in its ownership and refusal to respond to two show-cause letters.
However, the suspension order was lifted on January 27, more than a month after it was ordered to cease publishing.
Malaysia, Lim said, was in a "respectable" position at 92 in 2006 but things have deteriotated under the Najib leadership.
"We were in a respectable ranking of 92 in 2006 but under Najib’s premiership, Malaysia is now locked into the worst position in the bottom quarter of 180 countries assessed."
He called on Najib to explain the dismal rankings, which he said was contrary to his promise to ensure Malaysia was "the best democracy in the world".
"Can Malaysians expect an explanation from Najib after today’s cabinet meeting, the worst World Press Freedom Index in the past 12 years, falling even below Myanmar – which had up to now been regarded as the ‘bad boy’ of democracy in Asean?
The RSF's rankings weigh in on media freedom in some 180 countries.
This year, the group noted that the index spotlights "the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists".
"The World Press Freedom Index is a reference tool that is based on seven criteria: the level of abuses, the extent of pluralism, media independence, the environment and self-censorship, the legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
"It makes governments face their responsibilities by providing civil society with an objective measure and provides international bodies with a good governance indicator to guide their decisions," he added. – February 12, 2014.