Malaysia rises to No. 92 in press freedom rankings

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Malaysia has risen from 113th spot to 92nd place in the latest global press freedom rankings. Not only that, it is now the second freest country in South-East Asia if the latest press freedom survey by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is to be believed. That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that Malaysia's rise in the regional rankings seems to be largely due to a sharp erosion in press freedom in other South-East Asian countries. For instance, the top ranked country in the region, Timor Leste, ranked 58th globally last year, plunged to 83rd spot this time. Thailand and the Philippines, whose media were once among the freest in the region, are now sitting uncomfortably above Singapore this time. And that says a lot.

Let's not get carried away. There are real constraints on media freedom in Malaysia, notably the concentration of media ownership (e.g. Media Prima, the Chinese press), corporate domination and the lack of space for civil society views, and self-censorship (as the Prime Minister himself has just admitted). Just because there are no journalists killed, kidnapped or put in jail, it does not mean there is a whole lot of press freedom. Indeed, the RSF survey does not really look into the concentration of media ownership in any great depth. Neither does it look at corporate influence on media content and the infusion of corporate propaganda.

Here are the South-East Asian nations' press freedom rankings. The regional rankings for 2006 are shown on the left, followed by the previous year's regional ranking in brackets. The global rankings for 2006 are shown on the right in brackets.

  1. (1) Timor-Leste (83)
  2. (5) Malaysia (92)
  3. (3) Indonesia (103)
  4. (2) Cambodia (108)
  5. (4) Thailand (122)
  6. (6) Philippines (142)
  7. (7) Singapore (146)
  8. (9) Vietnam (155)
  9. (8) Laos (156)
  10. (10) Burma (164)
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