17 October, 2007

Malaysia down in press freedom index

Ministerial "advice" to media tantamount to interference

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) questions the Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin's "advice" to news editors not to play up news that put the government in the bad light. CIJ finds the advice by the Minister alarming as he continues to show little regard for press freedom and the role of the media in a democracy.

On 12 October, quoting sources, Malaysiakini.com reported Zainuddin as telling editors that the media need not report the truth, especially news that cast a negative light on the government. This was because the Prime Minister's pledge to hear the truth applied only among government officials. He told them at a special meeting that he would, under the instruction of the Prime Minister, give similar advice to the press regularly.

CIJ views such controls over the media as subverting their functions in informing society. It also goes against the journalists' code of ethics not to report issues of public concern, especially where it involves the government and public officials. Zainuddin's advice strongly suggests that he would not like to see the press to play the role of a watchdog. This is also against the principles of democracy in which governments should be open to people's scrutiny via a free press.

It is also questionable how limiting the task of "telling the truth" to government officials will be effective when the mass media does not function as a channel between the people and the government.

Zainuddin's advice to the press is at the expense of the people, who have the right to free press and information. We call upon the Minister to stop interfering in the press and to appreciate it as a valuable tool to improve public governance and accountability.

CIJ advocates the following to promote press freedom and freedom of expression in Malaysia:

* the repealing of the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984
* the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Freedom
* the improvement of journalism practices through adherence to code of ethics


Issued by

Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Director


The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) notes with concern Malaysia's drastic drop in this year's Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in which the country now ranked at 124, a drop of 32 places from year 2006 where it occupied the 92nd spot. It is worrying to note that the decline has been precedented by an improvement in the 2006 index, in which Malaysia climbed up 21 notches from 2005.

However, CIJ agrees with the RSF's observation in its annual report about Malaysia, and our monitoring reveals a consistent trend in the following areas;

* the harassment of bloggers through police detention, questioning, defamation suit, as well as warning by the country's top leadership.
* constant interference by the Executive in editorial decisions, now in the form of official letters to editors from the Ministry of Internal Security and other verbal "advice"
* limiting certain topics, deemed sensitive to the administration, such as race and religion, corruption in the higher echelons, and the secular/Islamic state debate from public discussions through government directives to the media and the public.

The Index by RSF affirms our position that the administration of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi still has a long way to go to realizing its pledge for more openness and transparency. We recommend the following actions be taken immediately to arrest the declining levels of press freedom in the country;

* set up a parliamentary select committee on media freedom with a view, among others, towards repealing the Printing Presses and the Publications Act 1984
* stop Executive interference in editorial decisions
* stop using national security laws, such as the Sedition Act, Internal Security Act and Official Secrets Act, which are widely criticized for being extremely broad-worded, against bloggers.

Issued by
Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Director

Bloggers now threatened as much as journalists in traditional media.

The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.

In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible. “We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said. “More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media.”

At least 64 persons are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticising the president and Islamist control of the country’s universities.

Reporters Without Borders compiled this index by sending a questionnaire to the 15 freedom of expression organisations throughout the world that are its partners, to its network of 130 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It contained 50 questions about press freedom in their countries. The index covers 169 nations. Other countries were not included because of lack of data.

The ranking

1 Iceland
- Norway
3 Estonia
- Slovakia
5 Belgium
- Finland
- Sweden
8 Denmark
- Ireland
- Portugal
11 Switzerland
12 Latvia
- Netherlands
14 Czech Republic
16 Austria
17 Hungary
18 Canada
19 Trinidad and Tobago
20 Germany
21 Costa Rica
- Slovenia
23 Lithuania
24 United Kingdom
25 Mauritius
- Namibia
27 Jamaica
28 Australia
29 Ghana
30 Greece
31 France
32 Taiwan
33 Spain
34 Bosnia and Herzegovina
35 Italy
36 Macedonia
37 Japan
- Uruguay
39 Chile
- South Korea
41 Croatia
43 South Africa
44 Israel (Israeli territory)
45 Cape Verde
- Cyprus
47 Nicaragua
48 United States of America
49 Togo
50 Mauritania
51 Bulgaria
52 Mali
53 Benin
54 Panama
55 Tanzania
56 Ecuador
- Poland
58 Cyprus (North)
60 Kosovo
61 Hong-Kong
- Madagascar
63 Kuwait
64 El Salvador
65 United Arab Emirates
66 Georgia
67 Serbia
68 Bolivia
- Burkina Faso
- Zambia
71 Central African Republic
72 Dominican Republic
73 Mozambique
74 Mongolia
75 Botswana
- Haiti
77 Armenia
78 Kenya
79 Qatar
80 Congo
81 Moldova
82 Argentina
83 Senegal
84 Brazil
85 Cambodia
- Liberia
87 Albania
- Honduras
- Niger
90 Paraguay
91 Angola
92 Malawi
- Ukraine
94 Côte d’Ivoire
- Timor-Leste
96 Comoros
- Uganda
98 Lebanon
99 Lesotho
100 Indonesia
101 Turkey
102 Gabon
103 Israel (extra-territorial)
104 Guatemala
- Seychelles
106 Morocco
107 Fiji
- Guinea
- Guinea-Bissau
110 Kyrgyzstan
111 Cameroon
- United States of America (extra-territorial)
113 Chad
114 Venezuela
115 Tajikistan
116 Bhutan
117 Peru
118 Bahrain
119 Tonga
120 India
121 Sierra Leone
122 Jordan
123 Algeria
124 Malaysia
125 Kazakhstan
126 Colombia
127 Burundi
128 Philippines
129 Maldives
130 Gambia
131 Nigeria
132 Djibouti
133 Democratic Republic of Congo
134 Bangladesh
135 Thailand
136 Mexico
137 Nepal
138 Swaziland
139 Azerbaijan
140 Sudan
141 Singapore
142 Afghanistan
143 Yemen
144 Russia
145 Tunisia
146 Egypt
147 Rwanda
148 Saudi Arabia
149 Zimbabwe
150 Ethiopia
151 Belarus
152 Pakistan
153 Equatorial Guinea
154 Syria
155 Libya
156 Sri Lanka
157 Iraq
158 Palestinian Territories
159 Somalia
160 Uzbekistan
161 Laos
162 Vietnam
163 China
164 Burma
165 Cuba
166 Iran
167 Turkmenistan
168 North Korea
169 Eritrea

Read also Malaysiakini's :" Drastic drop for Malaysia in press freedom ranking"

Malaysia fell drastically by 32 spots to 124 in the latest worldwide press freedom ranking index released by Paris-based watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF, Reporters Without Borders).



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