Cabinet tomorrow should set up a Cabinet Committee to draft and execute a five-year strategy to improve Malaysia’s international press freedom ranking to be acknowledged as one of the world’s model nations with a free, independent and responsible press
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): The 14th World Press Freedom Day yesterday (May 3) has come and gone, without any message from the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi or any Cabinet Minister, but even more serious, without any commitment by the newly re-elected Barisan Nasional government to improve on Malaysia’s dismal press freedom ranking.
Two Fridays ago, Abdullah launched the National Integrity Plan which received laudatory front-page headlines the next day, e.g. “Five Year plan to create noble society” (NST) and “NIP the rot – PM launches five-year plan to bring back values” (The Star).
For the first time, the government acknowledged that Malaysia suffers from very dismal international corruption perception rankings, having fallen 14 places from 23rd to 37th position in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in the nine years from 1995 to 2003. As a result, one of the declared objectives of the National Integrity Plan is the five-year target from 2004-2008 to improve Malaysia’s 37th placing in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2003 to 30th place, i.e. improvement of seven placings in five years.
There is however no sign that the government is prepared to be equally committed to improve Malaysia’s dismal international press freedom rankings.
In the latest global press freedom ranking, released by Freedom House in its study Freedom of the Press 2004: A Global Survey of Media Independence on April 28, 2004, Malaysia was ranked a dismal 154th placing out of 193 countries, even worse than Iraq, Russia, Yemen, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Malaysia was placed in the third category of “Not Free” nations (73 countries in the “Free” category, 49 “Partly Free” and 71 “Not Free” ). For the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia is ranked 32 out of 39 countries, only better than Afghanistan, Brunei, China, Laos, Vietnam, Burma and North Korea, the last two ranked among the last four of the 193 countries with the least press freedom!
DAP calls on the Cabinet tomorrow to set up a Cabinet Committee to draft and execute a five-year strategy to improve Malaysia’s international press freedom ranking to be acknowledged as one of the world’s model nations with a free, independent and responsible press – quickly moving out of the third category of “Not Free” countries to “Party Free” before we join the “Free” category.
When Abdullah became Prime Minister last November, he had given high hopes that there will be fundamental changes in Malaysia towards a more open, accountable and transparent government and society, in keeping with the information revolution and the nation’s aspiration to become an information power.
However, although Abdullah as been Prime Minister for more than six months, there has not been any appreciable opening or loosening up of the mainstream media, whether printed or electronic, and Malaysia’s press freedom suffers from the same stifling and suffocating controls and censorship as in the past two decades.
Nobody is asking for absolute or unlimited press freedoms, and I am not even asking for 100% improvement in the mainstream media which will still be a very long distance from catapulting Malaysia from the “Not Free” to “Partly Free” let alone “Free” category for international press freedom ranking.
But I would expect say, 20 per cent improvement in the mainstream media after six months of Abdullah as Prime Minister – but Malaysians could hardly see two per cent improvement in the majority of the mainstream media after half a year!
On the occasion of the 14th World Press Freedom Day, Malaysian journalists write articles like “World media can still do better” while scrupulously steering away from more important subjects like “Malaysian media can still do better”!
Last Friday, the United Nations through the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) came out with a list of “Ten Stories the World Should Know More About” but which did not get sufficient media attention - "a snapshot of the most compelling stories that, at this point in time, are in need of more media attention".
Are there Malaysian journalists who are prepared to compile a list of “Ten Stories Malaysians Should Know More About” but which did not get sufficient media attention in the country?
At the Cabinet meeting tomorrow, Ministers should also address the memorandum by over a thousand Malaysian journalists five years ago on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day 1999 calling for a free and responsible press and the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act and other repressive laws.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman & Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor