Friday, February 14, 2014

Malaysia’s press freedom is now rated lower than ‘pariah’ Myanmar



Cecilia Jeyanthi Victor
PETALING JAYA: Myanmar, long regarded as a pariah state ruled by a military junta, is slowly but surely transforming for the better.

What about Malaysia? Yes, it is transforming but, most unfortunately, in the wrong direction – down south.

The World Press Freedom Index 2014 has ranked Malaysia even lower than Myanmar. So much for Malaysia’s long march towards Vision 2020 developed nation status.

Myanmar had been undermining press freedom for decades, putting journalists criticising the government behind bars, abusing and persecuting them.

It started relenting to democracy in 2011 following decades of global sanctions.

Myanmar’s political reforms in 2011 started with the media given more leeway to report on controversial issues; such a new media law was drafted with a Press Council that would abolish any form of media censorship.

Myanmar’s press freedom is today rated even better than Malaysia’s. Bolehland slipped two spots compared with last year.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration has failed miserably to uphold freedom of the press.

The suspension of weekly newspaper The Heat last December (suspension lifted last month) and the recent revocation of print licence approval for FZ Daily are a sad reflection of the state of press freedom in the country.

Political analyst Professor James Chin told theantdaily today that journalism in Malaysia had always suffered for lack of freedom.

“From day one since achieving independence in 1957, there has been no press freedom; we still have the Sedition Act, so where is the freedom of the press?”

He also said since Merdeka media licensing had been used to curb press freedom and whenever there was a crackdown on the media, the social media would take over.

However, Chin said the statistics released by the World Press Freedom Index were irrelevant as the rise of online media is making a huge lot of difference in providing information and shaping people’s minds.

“These are just statistics, news portals like Malaysiakini and Malaysian Insider have been around for quite some time as a source of information to the public,” he said.

Chin said with the digital technology, anyone could easily set up an online news portal, “therefore information is free to be shared freely despite the government’s stranglehold on the mainstream print and electronic media”.

“In Malaysia’s case it is more about the lack of freedom of speech on the whole which also includes press freedom.

“The prominence of online media is certainly here to stay as mainstream media, a government tool used as a form of propaganda, is slowly becoming less popular among Malaysians,” he added.

The country’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, in an interview just two years before he passed away in 1990, said: “The press is not free to report the truth.”

Just see how Umno-controlled Utusan Malaysia is getting away with its religious and racial smear and hate campaigns while other media organisations that report based on facts and figures are taken to task.

However, the advent of the digital technology and spawning of online news portals have seriously dented BN-Umno’s influence and media monopoly.

The sad part is that the BN ruling coalition is still unable to accept the reality of today’s Information and Communications Technology and adapt to change in the battle to be heard and accepted.

Although the credibility of social media is questionable, supressing the media is absolutely not the way to achieve Najib’s “best democracy in the world” vision.

Malaysia is ranked 147 out of 180 countries for press freedom last year compared with 145 out of 179 the previous year.

It comes as no shocker that Malaysia is also ranked below countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, Brunei and Thailand but fared better than Singapore, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam.

In 2006, it was ranked 92nd but has since gone downhill.

Fed up with the lack of press freedom and the police assaulting reporters and photographers for merely doing their job, journalists have formed movements and taken to the streets to demand greater freedom of movement and speech.

Does it matter to the Umno-led BN federal government?

~ The Ant Daily

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