International Report Says Malaysia Enjoys Significantly Improved Press Freedom Due To GE14
It also acknowledged that the government still has an "arsenal of draconian laws that could suppress press freedom".
Malaysia moved up 22 spots in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) 2019 World Press Freedom Index by placing 123rd among 180 countries
In comparison, Malaysia was ranked 145th in 2018, 144th in 2017, and 146th in 2016.
According to the RSF website, scores and rankings in the report are based on level of pluralism, media independence, environment for the media and self-censorship, legal framework, transparency, and quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
The significant improvement for Malaysia is credited to the change of government in the 14th General Elections (GE14) last May
"Press freedom is receiving a breath of fresh air in Malaysia after (former) prime minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition suffered a surprising defeat in the May 2019 general elections – its first defeat in modern Malaysian history," RSF said in a statement.
"Journalists and media outlets that had been blacklisted, such as the cartoonist Zunar and the Sarawak Report investigative news website, have been able to resume working without fear of harassment."
The report said self-censorship among journalists has declined dramatically and the print media are now offering a fuller and more balanced coverage.
The Paris-based watchdog also acknowledged that the government still has an "arsenal of draconian laws that could suppress press freedom"
Referring to the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, and the Communication and Multimedia Act, RSF said that the laws need a "complete overhaul".
"The authorities have strict control over publication licences and journalists can be sentenced to 20 years in prison on sedition charges. They pose a constant threat to media personnel, who still cannot express themselves with complete freedom, despite all the progress," the statement read.
Malaysia ranked ahead of most of its Southeast Asian neighbours
Indonesia trailed behind at 124, followed by The Philippines (134), Thailand (136), Myanmar (138), Cambodia (143), Singapore (151), Brunei (152), Laos (171) and Vietnam (176).
"With totalitarian propaganda, censorship, intimidation, physical violence, and cyber harassment, a lot of courage is needed to work independently as a journalist in the Asia-Pacific countries where democracies are struggling to resist various form of disinformation," said RSF.
Scandinavian countries emerged as the leaders of the World Press Freedom Index with Norway taking the top spot, followed by Finland and Sweden.
Eriteria, North Korea, and Turkmenistan completed the bottom three at 178,179, and 180 respectively.