|Malaysia: No good news about media
By Mustafa Ali
LUMPUR - Despite louder calls for press freedom in
recent years, there is a long way to go before Malaysian
society and its much-controlled media get a taste of
real freedom, recent debates among journalists and
The latest reminder came on
Friday, when Zulkifi Sulong, editor of Harakah magazine,
a publication of the Islamic opposition Parti Islam
SeMalaysia (PAS), was found guilty under the Sedition
Sulong's conviction was related to an
article the popular newspaper carried four years ago on
the trial of ex-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar is now in jail for corruption and sodomy, charges
that his supporters are politically motivated.
For critics of the condition of the largely
government-controlled media in Malaysia, the Harakah
conviction explains why the country is in 110th position
- well below Indonesia, Thailand the Philippines - in
the recently launched press-freedom index of the
French-based Reporters Sans Frontieres.
Indonesia was ranked 57th, Thailand 65th, and
the Philippines 89th. Brunei ranked 111th and Singapore
is not listed due to "lack of information".
Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands
tied for first place in the index. The United States was
No 17, just ahead of Hong Kong and just behind
Switzerland and Costa Rica.
The New York-based
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in its report
for World Press Freedom Day on Saturday, says it sees no
sign of improvement in media freedom even after Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad steps down in October. "His
designated successor is likely to continue the legal
coercion and ownership restrictions that have been in
effect for 25 years," it pointed out.
evaluations carried little weight with government
officials here, who in recent days have been reacting
also to calls made by Southeast Asian journalists'
groups for more space for media freedom.
Indonesians and Filipinos don't even have enough to fill
their stomachs. Who are they to lecture us on press
freedom? We are more qualified because we have full
stomachs," Deputy Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin
told Malaysian journalists at at a discussion last week.
Speaking at a forum by the National Union of
Journalists (NUJ), Maidin said Malaysia should follow
its own concept of guided press freedom. "We
[Malaysians] have to establish our own press-freedom
concepts and values. It has been [proved] that we have
the ability to be stable, to suppress extremism through
guided press freedom," he said, adding that West had
itself abandoned media-freedom values in the Iraq war
In recent weeks, several Malaysian
politicians have also attacked and threatened to ban the
London-based Economist weekly magazine for being
ill-willed against Malaysia.
In its survey
titled "The Changing of the Guard - A Survey of
Malaysia", the magazine analyzed the prospective change
in premiership, Malaysia's economic achievements under
Mahathir's leadership and political challenges facing
its leadership in retaining the support of majority
At another forum organized by the
Malaysia-based Asian Institute for Development
Communication (AIDCOM), English-language New Straits
Times associate editor Rehman Rashid said that there are
some journalists in Malaysia who believe that
restrictions imposed on media are not only needed but
Frankly saying that his newspaper is
pro-government, Rashid however said he believes that
diversity among media is important so that the audience
would have more choices. "Before freedom of the press,
we should have freedom of information. It is enough for
us to get you information and let you have [it]," he
For the associate editor of the Star
newspaper, Bunn Negara, press freedom is a question of
degree. It can be seen in several ways depending on how
people in each society perceive it, he explained.
"Before talking about press freedom, one has to answer
several questions such as press freedom is for what
purpose, for whom, to do what and by what standard," he
The Star, the biggest English-language
daily, is owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association
(MCA), a Chinese Malaysian party within the ruling
coalition led by the dominant United Malays Nationalist
Organization (UMNO) of Mahathir.
editor-in-chief of the independent online newspaper
Malaysiakini, said that although the Internet medium is
not limited by the licensing system that governs printed
or broadcast media, there are still more than 30 laws in
Malaysia that limit their freedom.
Malaysia's media environment, except for news appearing
on the Internet, remains restrictive, characterized by
strict licensing laws, self-censorship and pervasive
The CPJ report mentions
cases that illustrate such tight control. These include
the suspension of the Malay-language tabloid Perdana
over a report on the leader of the UMNO female youth
wing, and the suspension of the publishing permit of the
new Chinese newspaper Oriental Daily News.
also expresses doubt on the proposal by what it calls
the "conservative, private" Malaysian Press Institute to
set up a media council. This move does not intend to
seek the repeal of the existing Printing Presses and
Publications Act 1984, but aims to become "a
semi-governmental body with additional power to control
the media", CPJ says.
Despite the restrictive
environment, however, critical questions are being asked
by some Malaysians, including a young listener who aired
his queries at the end of the AIDCOM forum.
don't want media to be pro-government. We want them to
be pro-fairness," he said. "As a consumer, where do I
get information if the media don't do it? Where do we go
from now?" he asked.
To view the Reporters
Sans Frontieres press freedom index and explanations for
how it was compiled, click here.