Anwar’s ‘doesn’t matter’ comment on Malaysia’s fall in press freedom ranking smacks of arrogance

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s statement dismissing Malaysia’s declining ranking in a world press freedom index with a “doesn’t matter” comment.

This response was embarrassing, dishonest and totally unacceptable. Coming from a sitting prime minister, it smacks of arrogance. It is the kind of response one would expect from a leader of a banana republic.

In justifying the fall in the press index, Anwar trots out the now familiar “three Rs” excuse. In fact, the real basis of the report on Malaysia by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was the blocking of news portals that are critical of the government such as Utusan TV, TV Pertiwi and MalaysiaNow. TikTok videos of government critics have also been blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

Hence, Anwar’s claim that the fall in the index was because of government action on three-R issues is a deliberate distortion and false spin of the RSF report.

It is also telling that in trying to justify the governments “tough action” against freedom of speech, Anwar cited a Bloomberg news report regarding a purported casino project in Forest City, Johor. But in fact, public criticism in that matter was focused on the PM’s alleged involvement in talks on opening a casino, and not the king.

By using the Bloomberg news report as an example, the PM exposes the government’s recent tactics in censoring the press and freedom of speech – by using the king as a convenient wall of defence for the government crackdown.

This cynical tactic of Anwar’s renders his claim that he upholds freedom of press entirely hollow. How can there be freedom of press when all criticism of the establishment is swept under the convenient category of three Rs? He assumes the public is blind to this deceit, but it is plain for everyone to see.

READ MORE:  Contradictions in government's media freedom commitment

This is why the country’s press ranking has fallen under his prime ministership.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech under Article 10(1)(a), and this right includes the freedom of press.

By smearing any criticism of the government as inciting racial hatred or stirring sentiments against the royal institution, the government is in effect making the right to free speech meaningless and illusory. This makes the government itself the biggest offender against the Constitution.

There is also no basis for discounting Malaysia’s dwindling position as RSF’s lack of understanding of the Malaysian political context. This is a familiar excuse which was relied upon by the oppressive old Barisan Nasional governments for decades, and which was once criticised by Anwar and Pakatan Harapan when in opposition.

LFL urges the government to take seriously Malaysia’s downgrade in RSF’s world press freedom index and to accept that it is caused by the increasing action of blocking or censoring critical press.

It is not enough to claim that the government respects freedom of press; the government must take proactive action to uphold freedom of press by not interfering with the crucial work of the media, as the fourth estate upholding democracy. – LFL

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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