Malaysia: IFJ report highlights the impacts of Covid-19 on press freedom

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges faced by media workers and journalists in Malaysia, according to a new report released today by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The IFJ report documents a disturbing deterioration in press freedom since Malaysia’s snap change of government in March 2020 and calls for urgent reforms to protect the country’s fragile media industry.

Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan gestures as he arrives at the Federal Court in Putrajaya on July 13, 2020. Credit: Mohd Rasfan / AFP

Challenges and Controls: Impacts of Covid-19 on Media Workers in Malaysia  finds that after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic globally, Malaysia implemented the oppressive Movement Control Order (MCO), while the country witnessed an increasing number of violations and attacks against anyone seen to be critical of sensitive topics and the new political order. The report details a list of charges and persecutions over the past six months under Malaysia’s existing draconian laws and regulations.

The report outlines the pivotal political ‘switch’ in late February 2020, that saw Malaysia’s ruling government under the 94-year-old statesman Mahathir Mohamad crumble and collapse; and swiftly replaced with a concoction of party defectors and nationalist, conservative opposition politicians led by Muhyiddin Yassin.

"Malaysia’s newest government has not been in power six months, yet there is a documented disturbing decline in civil liberties and press freedoms under its command," the IFJ said. “For journalists and media workers, it was a dashing of media reform dreams promised under the previous government and an expected return to political ‘business as usual’ for the country.”

The period has been punctuated with high profile cases including sedition charges against respected online news portal Malaysiakini, raids on Al Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur offices, and banning of the book Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance and Hope in New Malaysia. The report also presents recommendations to support the creation of a more conducive working environment for media workers in Malaysia with a focus on legal reforms and the creation of a media council to regulate the industry and protect media freedoms.

On September 9, representatives from the media and civil society groups will discuss the report findings and wider impacts for media, panellists on the webinar include the honourable Wong Shu Qi from the Democratic Action Party, journalist and the spokesperson for Gerakan Media Merdeka (GERAMM) Radzi Razak, foreign correspondent Tashny Sukumaran and the CEO and co-founder of Malaysiakini, Premesh Chandran.

IFJ said:Armed with the repressive laws of contempt and sedition, the new government is silencing critics and undermining press freedom. For a resilient media industry that serves the public interest legal reforms are critical.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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