Malaysia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Malaysia

Malaysia

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

65

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

24

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

18

Malaysian media continue to be constrained by significant 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Publications Act (PPPA) requires all publishers and printing firms to obtain an annual operations permit, which can be withdrawn without judicial review.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. With respect to electronic media, the information minister decides who can own a broadcast station and the type of television service suitable for the Malaysian public via the 1988 Broadcasting Act. The Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act, and harsh criminal defamation legislation continue to impose restrictions on the press and other critics. Local media watchdog groups such as Charter 2000 continue to campaign for the repeal of these and other laws that repress freedom of expression, including the Internal Security Act, the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance, the Essential (Security Cases) Regulations, and the Universities and University Colleges Act. The latter law was invoked in December to punish journalism student Ali Bukhari Amir, whose stories on campus politics were published in the Islamic opposition party's newspaper, Harakah.

Self-censorship in the Malaysian media is entrenched through a history of political interference in media coverage of issues considered by the government to be "sensitive" and against the national interest. Thus the real threat for journalists does not come so much from professional sanctions as from a learned caution against expensive defamation suits, sackings, media closures, media bans, and unannounced interrogation by the Ministry of Internal Security for any "mishandling" of information. Two editors from China Press, the second-highest circulated Chinese daily in the country, were forced to resign after publishing a leaked video clip of police abuse of a woman, alleged to be a Chinese national, who was forced to squat in the nude. The woman was later ascertained to be a Malaysian. The story compelled Malaysia to apologize to China, and in December the new Ministry of Internal Security, which has powers to issue, revoke, or change the terms of printing and publishing licenses, ordered China Press to show cause for its false reporting. The U.S.-based Epoch Times, a pro-Falun Gong Chinese-language weekly printed in Indonesia, was banned in June and July for what the National Security Bureau said presented a negative view of China at a time when Malaysia was improving bilateral ties with China. The case of Screenshots blogger Jeff Ooi, who was threatened with prosecution in 2004 for allowing a reader's post on his website that was critical of the moderate vision of Islam promoted by the ruling party, remains under investigation, and Ooi was questioned again by police in February.

Political parties and businesspeople or companies close to the ruling coalition own or control all eight major daily newspapers. This type of patronage of the media via editors' affiliation with government and corporate leaders continues to hamper investigative reporting of public affairs and also contributes to self-censorship. Both the print and broadcast media's news coverage and editorials generally support the government line, although there has been somewhat greater criticism of official policy in the mainstream print press in recent years. Foreign publications are subject to censorship, and the distribution of issues containing critical articles is frequently delayed. The internet has minimized the government's monopoly of information and bolstered the average Malaysian's access to alternative information sources. Highly critical blogs by Malaysian standards, such as Screenshots and Sangkancil, online news sites like Malaysiakini, and media watchdogs such as Aliran and the Center for Independent Journalism have so far been able to operate since Abdullah Badawi took over as prime minister in 2003, although they are subject to repeated instances of harassment at the hands of authorities.