Malaysia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Malaysia

Malaysia

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

69

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

26

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

While the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has proven to be more tolerant of dissent than its predecessor, the country's repressive laws banning certain types of speech remain in effect. In 2004, Malaysian officials threatened to renege on their own vows to never censor content on the Internet, the last bastion of independently sourced information in the country. The media continue to be sharply constrained by legal restrictions and other forms of intimidation. The constitution permits limitations on freedom of expression, and the government imposes them in practice, ostensibly to protect national security and public order. The Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) requires all publishers and printing firms to obtain an annual operations permit, which can be withdrawn without judicial review. Authorities have shut down or otherwise circumscribed the distribution of some pro-opposition media outlets under the PPPA. The Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act, Broadcasting Act, and criminal defamation laws continue to impose restrictions on the press and other critics.

According to the Southeast Asian Press Alliance and Reporters sans frontieres, government leaders were considering using the Internal Security Act (ISA) to punish webmasters who allow "irresponsible" material to be posted on their Web sites. The ISA provides for imprisonment without trial for up to two years. The crackdown on Internet media began with the raid on the offices of Malaysiakini.com last year. In 2004, it continued with the threat to prosecute Screenshots webmaster, Jeff Ooi, for allowing a reader's post on his Web site on September 30 that was critical of the moderate vision of Islam promoted by the ruling party. In November, the government ordered the closure of another online forum, Malaysia Boleh, for posting allegedly inflammatory and seditious comments on Malay rights and Islam. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was quoted in December as saying that the government would investigate the news and opinion Web site Malaysia Today for conducting an open debate on privileges accorded to Muslims.

Political parties and businesspeople or companies close to the ruling coalition own or control most major newspapers. The print and broadcast media's political news coverage and editorials strongly support the government line. Pressure from owners and fear of legal action intimidate journalists to practice self-censorship. Foreign publications are subject to censorship, and the distribution of issues containing critical articles is frequently delayed. Some diversity of opinion is provided by the online editions of newspapers and Web sites, but during the past two years these have also come under threat of prosecution.