Malaysia has dropped the most out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.
While the May 2018 change in government saw a favorable increase in press freedom, Malaysia took eighteen steps back when Muhyiddin Yassin’s government took over in March 2020, according to the latest ranking compiled by Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, which also found journalism being blocked in more than 130 countries around the world in the last year.
“When Malaysia experienced its first-ever transfer of power through elections in May 2018, the environment for journalists became much more favourable and the country rose dramatically in RSF’s Press Freedom Index,” the report said. “But all this has gone into reverse since the former ruling coalition was restored to power after 22 months in March 2020.”
The nonprofit said that Malaysia was “back to harassment, intimidation and censorship” as “many journalists have had to censor themselves” due to “draconian” legislations in place that stifle freedom of expression, including the 1948 Sedition Act, the 1972 Official Secrets Act, and the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act.
Another anti-fake news law had also been enacted in March by the government using state of emergency powers, it noted. Under the law, anyone found guilty of publicizing fake news faces a RM100,000 (US$24,000) fine and three years imprisonment.
RSF also mentioned that propaganda mouthpiece JASA, now known as J-KOM, was given RM85 million from the federal budget to spread good news about the government.
Meanwhile, neighboring Singapore dropped two places to number 160 and is now classified as “very bad” for press freedom.
The “dramatic deterioration” in people’s access to information and news coverage comes as more authorities use the pandemic to block journalists’ access to sources and reporting in the field, the RSF noted, saying that data has shown journalists finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
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