PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has been ranked 101st globally in the latest 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
According to RSF, Malaysia registered the biggest increase among 180 countries, improving by 22 places, followed by Maldives that jumped 19 places to rank at 79th.
It credited the changes of government through polls in both countries as a factor.
Malaysia’s score went down by 3.62 points to 33.12 in 2020. A lower score indicates greater press freedom.
The third biggest increase was Sudan at 159th, an increase of 16 places, which RSF credited to the coup d'état removal of Omar al-Bashir as president.
At the top of the rankings were Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, while North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan found themselves at the bottom.
However, the biggest decline in the 2020 World Press Freedom was Haiti, which fell 21 places to rank 83rd. RSF cited as a factor violent nationwide protests in the past two years where journalists were often targeted.
“The other two biggest falls were in Africa – by Comoros (down 19 to 75th rank) and Benin (down 17 to 113th), both of which have seen a surge in press freedom violations, ” RSF said.
It added that the latest index suggests that the next 10 years would be pivotal for journalism, citing geopolitical, technological, democracy, economic crises, as well as a crisis of trust, as contributing factors.
“We are entering a decisive decade for journalism linked to crises that affect its future, ” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
“The Covid-19 pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information and is itself an exacerbating factor, ” he added.
Deloire also said that there is a clear correlation between suppression of media freedom and the response to the Covid-19 outbreak, pointing that China (177th) and Iran (173rd) conducted extensive censorship over coverage of the pandemic.
RSF found that harsh fake news legislation against Covid-19 reporting in Iraq and Hungary shows that the ongoing public health crisis has allowed authoritarian governments to implement a notorious “shock doctrine”.
“(They are taking) advantage of the fact that politics is on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times, ” said Deloire.
“For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfil their role as society’s trusted third parties, which means they must have the capacity to do so, ” he said.
Meanwhile, the RSF said the Asia Pacific region saw the highest increase (1.7%) in press freedom violations.
“Australia (down five to 26th) used to be the regional model but is now characterised by its threats to the confidentiality of sources and to investigative journalism, ” he said.
The RSF also pointed out that Singapore, which ranked 158th, made significant contributions to the increase in the region’s press violation score, citing its Orwellian “fake news” law as a factor.
“The other was Hong Kong, which also fell seven places because of its treatment of journalists during pro-democracy demonstrations, ” it added.
On the other hand, the RSF said Europe has continued to be ranked as the most favourable continent for media freedom, followed the American continent.
RSF also said the Middle East and North Africa continue to be the world’s most dangerous region for journalists.
“The recent detention of RSF’s correspondent in Algeria (down five spots to 146) showed how the authorities in some countries have taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to settle scores with independent journalists, ” it said.
The World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries is determined by the pooling of responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by the RSF.
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