Freedom of the Press
You are here
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s initially positive rhetoric and actions toward the media after taking office in April 2009, his government continued to employ the full arsenal of restrictions and censorship tactics used by his predecessors.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression under Article 10, but allows for a host of limitations on this right. The Sedition Act, the Internal Security Act (ISA), and harsh criminal defamation laws are used regularly to impose restrictions on the press and other critics, and all transgressions are punishable by several years in prison—in many cases without trial. For example, Raja Petra Kamaruddin, founder and editor of the website Malaysia Today, was detained and accused of demeaning Islam in 2008, then released on procedural grounds. However, he was later charged under the 1948 Sedition Act and with criminal defamation under the penal code, and is thought to have fled to London to escape the charges, which many observers consider to be politically motivated.
The 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) requires all publishers and printing firms to obtain an annual operations permit, and gives the prime minister the authority to revoke licenses at any time without judicial review. In late March 2009, two opposition party newspapers—Suara Keadilan, published by the People’s Justice Party (PKR), and Harakah, published by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS)—received three-month suspensions in what was widely seen as an attempt to prevent the parties from communicating with voters ahead of by-elections on April 7. The suspensions were lifted early by Najib following his April 3 inauguration. In August, officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs seized 400 copies of the inaugural issue of a magazine of political cartoons called Gedung Kartun. While a ministry spokesman claimed that the magazine was confiscated primarily due to its lack of a publication permit and for content checking, its editor disputed this explanation. The 1988 Broadcasting Act allows the Information Ministry to decide who can own a broadcast station and what type of television service is suitable for the Malaysian public. Broadcast outlets also practice self-censorship. Florence Looi, host and producer of the NTV7 program Point of View, was taken off the air in July and reassigned to field reporting, apparently for having asked her guests to rate the performance of Najib during his first 100 days in office.
The country has no freedom of information legislation, and officials are reluctant to share controversial data for fear of being charged under the Official Secrets Act. In April, Najib barred Merdeka Review reporter Wong Shu Qi and photographer Saw Siow Feng from covering the announcement of the new cabinet line-up. It was suspected that the move stemmed from the online outlet’s commentaries criticizing pro-Najib stories from the Chinese-language paper Sin Chew Jit Poh. Earlier in the year, the opposition-controlled government of Penang State banned the English-language daily New Straits Times from its official functions.
Due to these extensive legal restrictions, the ability of officials to censor both print and broadcast media, and the self-censorship practiced by many journalists, physical harassment and intimidation is less of a danger than arbitrary arrest or being threatened with legal action, and no cases of physical attacks were reported during the year.
Although media are primarily privately owned, the majority of both print and broadcast outlets are owned either by political parties in the ruling coalition or by businessmen with close political connections. For example, Media Prima Berhad, which includes NTV7, is closely linked to the main ruling party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Other stations in the Media Prima group include TV3, Channels 8 and 9, radio stations Fly FM and Hot FM, and various newspapers in the New Straits Times Press Berhad group. Coverage at most outlets tends to favor the government and provide minimal exposure for the opposition.
Malaysia was estimated to have almost 17 million internet users as of June 2009, or roughly 57 percent of the population. Despite a thicket of restrictions on the traditional media, the country remains committed to a policy of refraining from internet censorship, as guaranteed in Section 3(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and in the Multimedia Bill of Guarantees. Online news organizations and bloggers are nevertheless subject to harsh defamation laws, and in 2009 there were several warning signs of possible government crackdowns in the future. Bloggers and internet news providers tread carefully so as not to post material that might be deemed seditious or defamatory and run the risk of arrest.
Two bloggers—Ahiruddin Attan, also known as Rocky Bru, and Jed Yoong, a former writer for the opposition publication Rocket—were questioned by police in February 2009 over critiques of the monarchy in Perak state that appeared on their blogs. A few weeks later, a number of people were charged with posting critical comments about the Perak royal family online. As the Center for Independent Journalism noted, provisions of the CMA guarantee that it should not be used to censor the internet, and this was the first time the law had been used to charge people for comments posted online. In August 2009, the online Malaysian Insider reported that the government was studying the feasibility of an internet filter. In September, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission asked Malaysiakini, an independent news website, to take down two videos related to a controversial protest against the relocation of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam. However, Malaysiakini refused to comply with the request.