Before the end of the year of 2013 in five days’ time, there is another pledge that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak should honour – his pledge to make Malaysia the “best democracy in the world”.
Nobody whether in Malaysia or outside really believe Najib would transform Malaysia into the “best democracy in the world” but the least they expect Najib to do is not to backslide on his specific promise of democratic reforms.
The suspension of the weekly, The Heat, would be one such unacceptable instance of Najib reneging on his specific promise of democratic reforms to unshackle the press from authoritarian restrictions of the Mahathirish past.
In fact, Najib should be moving forward to repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act altogether to remove the requirement for the licensing of publications.
The Home Ministry has claimed that Najib is not behind the suspension of The Heat and that the suspension is not related to the report in the weekly titled “All eyes on big spending PM Najib” published for the week of November 23-29.
Nobody really believes in the Home Ministry’s denial and clarification but let us move on.
Najib should intervene immediately to restore the publication licence of The Heat before this incident becomes the tipping point to plunge Malaysia’s 2014 Press Freedom Index to the lowest point in the nation’s history, even below that of Myanmar.
Malaysia already plunged last year to a historic low of No. 145 ranking out of 179 countries in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index – the worst since the start of the annual index by Reporters Without Border (RSF) in 2002.
Malaysia fell by 23 rungs last year, as it was ranked at 122 in the 2011/2012 Press Freedom Index.
This was because of Malaysia’s “sorry record” of the government’s repeated effort to censor information with access to information “becoming more and more limited” as well as the government’s campaign of repression as in the authorities’ “heavy-handed crackdown on the Bersih rally” in April 2012.
As a result, ASEAN 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 ASEAN countries that had less favourable performances are the Philippines, Singapore, Laos, and Vietnam, which were respectively ranked at 147, 149, 168 and 172.
Noteworthy was Myanmar which was ranked 151, six pspots behind Malaysia, after jumping up 18 places – the second year it had improved its rankings.
Is Malaysia heading towards the nation’s lowest ranking in the history of the Press Freedom Index, even lower than Myanmar, for the coming new year in 2014?