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By Jared Pereira
Free Malaysia Today
KUALA LUMPUR | Jan 30, 2013

Malaysia is hastily suppressing the right to information and press freedom is getting increasingly limited, according to the Press Freedom Index 2013.

The index, an initiative by non-profit organisation Reporters Without Borders, showed that Malaysia dropped 23 places to the 145th position in the latest ranking.

The index measures the degree of freedom journalists, media organisations and netizens enjoy and the continued efforts of authorities to ensure this freedom is not restrained.

There are six criteria countries are evaluated on, mainly pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure.

Based on this, the index placed Malaysia in its worst ever ranking thus far at 145 out of 179 countries. In 2012, the country was ranked at 122.

Citing the government’s strict clampdown on last year’s Bersih rally and repeated censorship efforts, the index stated that Malaysia’s “sorry” record was inevitable.

The report said that despite numerous attempts by human rights activists and online media to champion freedom, the government has constantly sought to repress such attempts.

The Malaysian government is silencing the voice of journalists and curbing the most basic freedom which is the right to information, the index claimed.

Masjaliza Hamzah, executive officer at the Centre For Independent Journalism (CIJ), concurred with the views expressed in the report and said she was not surprised.

“Last year’s Bersih 3.0 rally was a disaster for the government and police. Their actions in hurting and beating journalists took a huge impact on our current ranking,” she said.

When asked if she believed that our ranking will improve over the course of the year, she said: “It really depends on how the police and authorities act.

“If they are on their best behaviour and do their job, then the media can do theirs and definitely press freedom will be cultivated, and the ranking may improve.”

Masjaliza, however, denied that the recent People’s Uprising Rally on the Jan 12 would have had any bearing on the present ranking.

“It [the index] is a year-long report and takes into account all the happenings in that year alone… so only next year will we see if the recent rally will improve our rankings or not.”

Myanmar improves

Thanks to “dramatic changes” in the former pariah state, Myanmar rose to 151, an improvement of 18 places.

“There are no longer any journalists or cyber dissidents in the jails of the old military dictatorship,” said Reporters Without Borders.

In August, Myanmar announced the end of pre-publication censorship that was a hallmark of decades of military rule which ended in 2011.

“Legislative reform has only just begun but the steps already taken by the government in favour of the media, such as an end to prior censorship and the permitted return of media organisations from exile, are steps towards genuine freedom of information.”

The blossoming of media freedom stands in stark contrast to worsening repression elsewhere in Asia, according to the Paris-based media watchdog.

Japan suffered an “alarming fall” from 22nd to 53rd place because of censorship of news related to the nuclear accident at a tsunami-stricken power plant in Fukushima, the report said.

North Korea (178th), China (173rd), Vietnam (172nd) and Laos (168th) also languish near the bottom of the table as they “refuse to grant their citizens the freedom to be informed”, RSF said.

“Kim Jong-Un’s arrival at the head of the Hermit Kingdom has not in any way changed the regime’s absolute control of news and information,” it noted, referring to state control by Pyongyang.

The Indian subcontinent also saw a sharp deterioration, with journalists around the region facing the threat of violence.

In India (140th), “the authorities insist on censoring the Web and imposing more and more taboos, while violence against journalists goes unpunished and the regions of Kashmir and Chhattisgarh become increasingly isolated”.

After the “Arab springs” and other protest movements that brought many changes in the index in 2012, this year “marks a return to a more usual configuration”, according to the report.

Turkmenistan (177th) and Eritrea (179th) joined North Korea again at the bottom of the table, along with Syria (176th), Somalia (175th) and Iran (174th), while Finland, the Netherlands and Norway retained the top three ranks.

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