IFJ: Reforms slow despite progress in press freedom since GE14
Published:  Nov 22, 2019 1:18 PM
Updated: 1:18 PM

Press freedom in the country had shown visible progress since the change of federal government last year, said a report produced by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

In its Southeast Asia Media Freedom Report, the organisation stated that reforms on media freedom that were promised by the Pakatan Harapan ruling coalition were not materialising as quickly as expected.

Many laws that curtail freedom of expression, it said, continued to be in place.

"There is visible progress in terms of press freedom in Malaysia since the change of government last year, at least in terms of the cloud of self-censorship being lifted," the report stated. 

"However, many of the promised reforms have not materialised as quickly as expected, as many of the laws muzzling free expression remain on the statute books. Even as it seeks to abolish the Anti-Fake News Act, the Harapan administration continues to insist that fake news poses a threat to national security." 

According to IFJ, journalists in Malaysia had been specifically demanding the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which had been used by the government before to revoke newspaper licenses.

Noting that the Act had not been in use of late, the report stated that other laws like the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act were still being enforced.

"...(This is) despite Harapan leaders’ heavy opposition to both laws during the previous BN regime."

Harapan also seemed to be sending mixed messages on curtailing free expression, with some of its leaders called for abolition of the Sedition Act but, at the same time, called for clampdowns on the rising tide of online hate speech.

This mixed messaging had been claimed by the report to be reflected in sentiments of journalists in the country.

Quoting a survey it carried out together with the Southeast Asian Journalist Unions, the federation said 100 media practitioners were equally split on the media situation in the country since the past year.

It found that 30 of the respondents said the situation had worsened, 29 others said it had improved, while another 28 stated there had been no significant change.

According to the report, news organisations in the country were also facing existential threat, as they struggle to keep up with the evolution in news consumption methods.

Political patronage in the local media had also been pointed out by the report, citing that it had been cushioning declining readership for newspapers for years.

"This was most apparent in the fates of Utusan Malaysia, The Star and Tamil Nesan, linked to Umno, MCA, and MIC – the three major component parties of BN."

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