KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 30 ― Malaysia has plunged 23 rungs in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index and placed 145th out of 179 countries ― the country’s worst showing in the benchmark since 2002.
Malaysia had been ranked at 122 and 141 for the years 2011/2012 and 2010, respectively, in the index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
According to the organisation, the drop was due to access to information “becoming more and more limited”.
A report by the organisation said that Malaysia’s “sorry record” was caused by the government’s repeated efforts to censor information.
It also attributed the decline in the country’s media freedom to what it described as the government’s campaign of repression, pointing to what is seen as the authorities’ heavy-handed crackdown on the Bersih rally for electoral reform last April.
Last year, several media personnel had alleged that police assaulted them and seized their camera equipment and memory cards, in the aftermath of the April 28 rally.
“Despite an all-out battle by rights activists and online media outlets, a campaign of repression by the government, illustrated by the crackdown on the ‘Bersih 3.0’ protest in April, and repeated censorship efforts, continue to undermine basic freedoms, in particular the right to information,” Reporters Without Borders wrote in its report.
Neighbours Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia outperformed Malaysia at 122nd, 135th and 139th place respectively.
Cambodia stood at 143, two rungs higher than Malaysia despite sliding down 26 spots from the previous year.
Other countries in Southeast Asia that had less favourable performances are the Philippines, Singapore, Laos, and Vietnam, which were respectively ranked at 147, 149, 168 and 172.
Despite coming in at 151, Reporters Without Borders noted that Myanmar had jumped up 18 spots, the second year it improved its rankings.
The organisation said law reforms in that country had only just begun, but noted that the government there had already taken significant steps towards genuine freedom of information, including “an end to prior censorship and the permitted return of media organisations from exile”.