PETALING JAYA, 30 Oct 2008: Malaysia’s low ranking by an international watchdog on media freedom is unfair and undeserved, Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek said.
“Timur Leste and Liberia seem to be better than us,” he said today when opening the World Development Information Day Forum and Exhibition at Universiti Malaya.
He was referring to Malaysia‘s falling ranking in the annual world press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF.
In RSF’s 2008 report, Malaysia came in at 132, dropping eight ranks from its 124th place the year before.
Ahmad Shabery said he was perplexed that Malaysia was ranked “very much below many other countries known to be aid-dependent”.
The minister cited the country’s progress in the 51 years since independence in terms of per capita income, infrastructure and investment opportunities, and asked “whether absolute or near absolute press freedom will bring about greater well-being for the people”.
“Just because we have curbs on sexually explicit materials or are less tolerant to gay and lesbian rights or caricatures of the Prophet, we have been unfairly attacked as having an oppressive media environment,” Ahmad Shabery said.
He noted that change was inevitable and expressed hope that the Malaysian media could eventually publish “without being subject to many rules and regulations”.
“We hope that only level-headed and responsible people will run media organisations,” he said.
He added that he hoped these individuals would “safeguard the basic rights of society”.
He also expressed support for the proposed National Media Council, recently re-mooted by Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.
Ahmad Shabery said the council could monitor media activities so that “all parties, including the government, will have recourse against malicious reporting”.