Press freedom in Malaysia had already come under very adverse national and international criticism even before the recent general election.
In February last year the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression issued a report stating that freedom of opinion is curtailed systematically in Malaysia. The Special Rapporteur said that the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act were used to suppress or repress expression and curb peaceful assembly. He further stated that defamation laws "appear to be having a very chilling effect" on free speech and a free press.
Last month, in its annual survey of human rights in Malaysia for 1999, the United States State Department had been equally trenchant about freedom of speech and of the press when it said that "the Government restricts freedom of expression and intimidates most of the print and electronic media into practicing self-censorship".
The situation described by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the United States State Department annual survey of human rights with regard to freedom of speech and of the press has degenerated further during and after the recent general election, as a result of a political culture of vengeance and vindictiveness illustrated by the undemocratic curtailment of Harakah from a biweekly into a bimonthly and the refusal to renew permits for independent-minded publications like Detik.
The media after the recent general election is practising the worst forms of self-censorship during the 19-year premiership of Mahathir - completely at odds with his commitment for an open and accountable government when he first assumed the highest office in the land.
The MPI Awards Night has become an annual reminder of the absence of press freedom in Malaysia and it will continue to be so until and unless the MPI dare to institute an annual award for the Best Journalist to promote human rights, in particular freedom of the press and of speech!