10/22/2007, 00.00
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Press freedom on the slide in Kuala Lumpur, particularly internet

by Jeff Ooy
The government pressures journalists against bad press, to the detriment of truth. Web writers charged with defamation by government bodies. According to Rsf, the country ranks 124th for press freedom.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Press freedom in Malaysia does not project a rosy picture this year dipping 32 notches from 2006 to 124th place in the “index” drawn up by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its annual press freedom report.  Out of the 169 states monitored it has ranked among states accused of grave violations of press rights.

According to Gayathry Venketiswaran of the Centre for Independent Journalism the RSF indicator accurately reflects the concerns that most Malaysians perceive of media freedom in the country, particularly concerning outdated press laws which block the media’s ability to carry out its role in a democratic way.

The Rsf survey also indicated the arrest of bloggers and the closure or difficulty in gaining access to news websites. Two prominent Malaysian bloggers, Ahirudin Attan and Jeff Ooi, are being sued for defamation by the government-linked New Straits Times Press, a move criticised for attacking freedom of expression. Wong Chin Huat, Speaking to online news portal, Malaysiakini, Writers Alliance for Media Independence spokesman Wong Chin Huat said: “The harassment of web activists and cyber-dissidents ... indicates the growing intolerance”.

Zainuddin Maidin, Information Minister said that Malaysia should ignore the Rsf press freedom ratings as the body is not a judge on local values, but based on the Western values of press freedom. Last week, he reportedly told journalists not to play up negative stories because Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s pledge to “hear the truth” did not apply to the media.

Lim Kit Siang, op position leader commented that “Malaysia's (placing in the Rsf ratings) would have been worse if the shocking development that the prime minister does not want to hear the truth from the media and the public had been taken fully into account”.


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